Ruth R. Russell, a longtime Local editor and Chestnut Hill resident, died on Jan 2. She was 87.
Russell was a life-long Philadelphian. She was born in Olney to William and Doris Rummler. William was an executive at Penn Mutual Insurance, and Doris was a registered nurse.
Russell graduated from Olney High School and later from Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a master's degree. She maintained membership in The Association for Women in Communications throughout her career.
Russell got her start in journalism at Olney High’s newspaper where she became its editor-in-chief. Her interest in newspapers followed her to Temple University and she became editor-in-chief of its newspaper. After college, she continued her journalism pursuits as the editor of an insurance company employee publication, assistant editor of an insurance industry magazine, a freelance writer for a community newspaper and for an apartment house publication.
While working at Temple University’s newspaper, Russell met her husband, Judge Edward E. Russell when she interviewed him for Temple’s newspaper.
“I was involved in Temple at the time,” Judge Russell said. “We met when she interviewed me over lunch one day. I was impressed with her.”
The couple was married in 1955.
When the Russells moved to Chestnut Hill in the 60s, they were invited to a party at the home of J. Pennington Strauss, a prominent Hill resident and member of the board of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, which owns the Local. In retelling the story for the Chestnut Hill Local’s 50th anniversary in 2008, Russell said Strauss invited her to stop by the Local, figuring her journalism background would be useful.
Russell said she did just that and began writing pieces about John Story Jenks Elementary School. When then-editor Ellen Wells’ assistant left, Wells asked Russell to take her place.
“The rest, as they say, is history,” Russell wrote.
Wells left the Local in 1972 and Marie Jones and Mel Ehrlich were made co-editors. Russell was named Associate Editor.
Ehrlich would leave the paper in 1979, and it was then that Russell took the role at the local for which she would be known for the next 20 years, editor of LocalLife, the arts and cultural back section of the paper that she helped create, hiring columnists to cover local art, music and culture. She even found herself in charge of the paper’s sports section. Some of those writers still contribute to the paper today.
One of those writers is Clark Groome.
“When I started writing about theater in 1980 the Local was just beginning to grow into the voice of the arts it became for the next 30 years,” Groome said. “Coverage expanded (I was one of only two local theater critics who covered Broadway in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s) because her core belief was that the paper was not only there to report on Chestnut Hill but to cover events about which our readers would be interested, whether they happened on Germantown Ave., in Center City, or elsewhere. Ruth’s contributions to the Local’s impressive history cannot be overstated. She will be missed as a journalist and as a friend.”
Another is Michael Caruso, who covers classical music for the paper. He said Groome helped him connect with Russell in the 80s.
“Working for Ruth Russell at the Local was an unalloyed joy,” Caruso said. “She was a strict yet supportive editor, making corrections and offering advice with a gentle spirit supported by a solid professionalism. Working for and with her made me a better writer and journalist with every article I turned in. Beyond that, Ruth gave me the golden opportunity to get to know the passionate community of music lovers in Chestnut Hill.”
Tom Utescher was also among that early group of writers. Utescher still covers sports for the Local, but at the time, he wrote about much more.
“Ruth had the ability to be able to work at larger, more prestigious news outlets, but she preferred to be [at the Local],” Utescher said. “The personal engagement with the community was important to her, and she interacted with people in a positive, upbeat manner. Ruth's relationship with her reporters went beyond the arrangement of words on a page. In instances which I still carry with me, she provided life lessons, guidance, and sometimes a gentle push in what was invariably the right direction.
“Many editors can help writers hone their craft; I found that Ruth could help make you a better person.”
Katie Worrall, who served as an assistant editor at the Local and would eventually take Russell’s title as LocalLife Editor before becoming Editor-in-Chief, said Russell taught her a great deal about the profession. She remembered Russell’s guidance when she first joined the Local without any experience.
“Ruth was a very good teacher for me,” Worrall said. “She was very knowledgeable about journalism; was the one who taught me how to sort mail, which was the way we received press releases before we had the Internet; how to write announcements based on the press releases and along with editor Marie Jones and associate editor Mary Jane Shelly, how to write news and feature articles and how to reach out to people in the community about things we should cover.”
Features Editor Len Lear, who also served as LocalLife Editor (the section was changed to Chill Local in 2019) recalls starting as a restaurant reviewer for the Local under Russell. In 1995, when he lost his job as editor of the Main Line Weekly, Russell came to the rescue.
“Ruth called me at home, told me she heard that I was unemployed and offered me part-time work proofreading and headline writing, using an electric typewriter in the office,” Lear said. "I started at four hours a week, but she gave me more hours every six months or so until I wound up with 40 hours a week by 1999.
“Ruth was always kind and generous to me and others. She was a very good human being with a big heart, and I think that's about the best legacy anyone can leave.”
Russell retired from the Local in 2000 and was hired to create a section similar to LocalLife for the Philadelphia Public Record. Though she was no longer on staff, she continued to edit the Local’s special sections. She retired from The Public Record in 2009.
In addition to her long career in journalism, Russell was deeply involved in numerous civic activities. She was a board member of Allens Lane Art Center and of Northwest (now Neighborhood) Interfaith Movement. She also served on the advisory board of the YWCA of Germantown and the Center in the Park, and as an officer or board member of parent organizations at the schools her children attended: John Story Jenks School, Central High School and Philadelphia High School for Girls.
Russell also managed to find time to teach in a volunteer capacity as a member of the Science & Art Club of Germantown and at Mt. Airy Learning Tree. She was a gifted singer and performed with the Temple University Center City Chorus and the Academy Chorale.
She became a member of the Church of St. Martin-in the-Fields in 1977 and served the church community as a lector, intercessor and intercessor scheduler.
Russell is survived by her husband, the Hon. Edward E. Russell, her children Ann J. Russell, Robert J. Russell (Dawn) and Mary E. Russell-Poulain (Laurent Poulain) as well as four grandchildren: Stephen and Christopher Russell and David and Madeliene Poulain. She was predeceased by her son Edward E. Russell, Jr. and a brother, Dr. William D. Rummler.
A burial service will be scheduled in the future when conditions permit.