Russell, Thomas Hunter
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September 6, 1940 - February 8, 2012
Music lover, organ enthusiast, and prominent trial attorney, Thomas Hunter Russell, 71, of Los Angeles, California, died peacefully at his home on February 8, 2012. Mr. Russell was born on September 6, 1940 in Ventura, CA, to his parents, Gwendolyn and Leo Russell. He spent his childhood in Bakersfield and, after graduating from high school, attended Chapman College. From there, he attended the University of Southern California, where he received both his Bachelor's and Doctoral degrees. Upon earning his law degree, he started his professional career as a trial lawyer, opening and running a successful practice until his retirement in 2009. An advocate for fairness, Mr. Russell took on a civil rights case, pro bono, involving the collective arrest of numerous gay men during a contentious period in Los Angeles. Additionally, he often took on cases for individuals unable to pay standard legal fees. He began playing the organ at an early age and, throughout his life, was a passionate music lover. A member of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles since the early 1960s, he served as Assistant Organist for the congregation, and was one of the founders of that organization's Organ Concert Series, which began in 1969 when, under his guidance, the Frank C. Noon Memorial Organ was installed in the West Gallery of the Sanctuary of First Church. Through his years of tireless dedication and leadership, more components were added to the instrument, creating The Great Organs of First Church, which are now considered to comprise the largest church pipe organ in the world. He also helped establish the Friends of the Los Angeles Bach Festival in the 1980s, a non-profit organization that oversees the production of the Los Angeles Bach Festival, which has been presented each year since 1934. He served on that board until his death. Mr. Russell sat on numerous boards and committees in his time at First Church, including the Board of Trustees, the Governing Board of Pilgrim School and Fifield Manors Corporation. He was also civically involved, serving as Vice President of the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission, a Commissioner on the Los Angeles City-County Consolidation Commission, and ran a campaign as the Republican candidate for the California State Senate. He was a Freemason, and a former Chairman of the Los Angeles Freedom Club. He also played a key role as a Board member of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, as well as President of the Log Cabin Republican Club. For many years, Mr. Russell was an active participant in the cultural life of Los Angeles. Besides music, he had a particular affinity for architecture and, in fact, owned one of the finest private architectural libraries in the city. He is survived by his partner of 32 years, Mr. Jerry Habel. A funeral will be held at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 4:00pm, with a reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to: The Organ Endowment Fund for First Congregational Church of Los Angeles 540 S. Commonwealth Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90020
Published in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 12, 2012