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Walter B. RUSSELL Jr.


1929 - 2016 Obituary Condolences
RUSSELL, Jr., Walter B. Lieutenant Colonel Walter B. Russell, Jr., U.S. Army (Ret.), died in his sleep on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, at 5:10 a.m. He was 86 years old. Walt, as he was known to family and friends (many of whom also used his childhood nickname, Buddy), lived what most would consider a heroic life, bravely serving his country, and triumphing over physical disability. He exhorted his children to weigh their decisions against his credo that "life is not a rehearsal," and he backed up his words with action. Walt was never just rehearsing. He was characteristically reluctant to blow his own horn, however, and always sought to deflect admiration for his considerable achievements, preferring to give credit to his wife, Nancy Hinton Russell. His disarming, understated charisma drew people to him. Walt was born on July 24, 1929, in Greensboro, North Carolina, and grew up in a sprawling Southern family. After graduating from West Point in 1951, he embarked on a distinguished military career, earning, among other commendations, two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Legion of Merit. As a 23-year-old first lieutenant, Walt fought in Korea in the famous 1953 battle of Pork Chop Hill. (In the movie of the same name based on the battle, he is played by Rip Torn and his best friend, West Point classmate, and brother-in-law, Joseph G. Clemons, Jr., is played by Gregory Peck.) Walt spent the next twelve years in the airborne infantry, earning ratings as a Senior Parachutist, Ranger, and Army Aviator. In 1954 Walt met and wooed Nancy Hinton. They were married that same year in Columbia, Missouri, had five children, and last year celebrated their sixty-first anniversary. In 1965, Walt declined an invitation to attend the elite Armed Forces Staff College in order to go to Vietnam with the men he had helped train as part of the 1st Cavalry Division. On October 10th of that year, he sustained a sniper's bullet to the head while co-piloting a command helicopter during combat. The wound resulted in extensive permanent paralysis to his left side. Army doctors told him he would never walk again, and counseled that he should resign himself to a passive life of television and puttering around the house. Determined to defy them, Walt fiercely pushed himself through a grueling year of rehabilitation at Walter Reed Hospital, also subjected to Nancy's brand of strenuous home therapy, and, against all expectation, taught himself how to walk again. Walt retired from the Army in 1966 and, still refusing to be bested by his physical disability, began building a new life for himself as a civilian. He put himself through Emory Law School, serving as president of its student body, and passed the Georgia bar in November 1970. That same month he started his own law practice and was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, where he served three terms. He went on to be elected Chairman of the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, serving from 1976 to 1980. He retired after 25 years of politics and practicing law in Decatur. During these remarkably productive years, Walt mastered his disability with iron self-discipline, maintaining a rigorous schedule that required rising at 5:00 a.m. to ride his stationary bicycle before facing exhausting days of campaigning, holding office, and running a law practice. Despite the unrelenting challenges forced upon him by his physical condition, he did it all, without complaint or fanfare. Walt loved knowledge. An avid reader, he soaked up serious non-fiction, drinking deeply from the well of history, biography, and literature throughout his life. Yet he was also the self-appointed president of the Trashy Book Club, whose mission was to inflict throw-away paperback mysteries and thrillers on a far-flung membership. Walt was a talented athlete in his youth and retained his passion for sports as a fierce Bulldogs fan and a lover of baseball (the Braves, on and off). He was also a lifelong chess player and in his last 12 years clocked over 336 hotly contested games with his son Stuart in California, played remotely by Skype. It cannot be said that he was a good loser in the chess arena. His drive to excel never left him. Walt was known to cry at sentimental movies. He gave up smoking three times before it stuck. He would fight you for the last piece of caramel cake. We miss you, Walt Russell -- husband, father, brother, grandfather, good friend. We salute you and your remarkable life. Your memory will live in our hearts and minds forever. In addition to his wife, Nancy Hinton Russell, Walt is survived by his children, Walter B. Russell, III (Sally); Emily Russell (John); Betty Hinton Russell (Peter); Stuart Brevard Russell (Kate); and Anne Russell Eiswirth (Rick); his sisters, Cecil Russell Clemons (Joseph) and Ina Russell; his brother, Pierre MacFarland Russell (Kim). His sister Emily Russell Campbell preceded him in death. He is also survived by his grandchildren, John Alexander Russell, Andrew Hinton Russell, Sara Russell, Emily Russell Kuper, Alexandra Minetree Jones, Richard Samuel "Ike" Eiswirth III, and Jackson Walter Eiswirth. He also leaves behind him scores of first, second, and third cousins, whose annual reunion in Winder, Georgia, was the highlight of Walt's year; his West Point classmates, to whom he was devoted; and his beloved caretaker, Vickie Lucas, upon whom he relied for 15 years. A burial service with full military honors will be held at the Russell Family Cemetery in Winder. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the educational fund: Park Springs Foundation, 500 Springhouse Circle, Stone Mountain, GA 30087. Please mark checks, "In Memory of Walt Russell." A. S. Turner & Sons Funeral Home & Crematory.
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on May 22, 2016
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