Wing Commander Sidney Russell died at the beginning of February 2000. This Appreciation was given by Nancy Emmerson at his funeral in the Cathedral. Several people, unable to get there, have asked if they might read it.
Each of us here will have our own distinctive memory of Sid, no ‘Ordinary Man’, despite the self-effacing humility in the title of that well-worth reading book of his ‘Odd Thoughts’.* He was a lovely man and it is a privilege to respond to Joy’s request to share memories from those days in the Seventies and Eighties when they lived in Compton — very much the focus of the community.
I have a clear memory of Sid as Chairman of the Parish Council, facing hostile and patronising cross questioning on our behalf at the first anti-M3 enquiry and subsequently, sparing no pains to make sure that the Inspector gained an appreciation of the landscape and the sense of community then under threat.
He had the rare ability to defuse tense situations with that gentle voice and poetic way of looking at things. I remember his intervention in one rather fraught meeting when maintenance of the churchyard was under discussion. “It looks such a dear little place from the main road but when you’re on your hands and knees clipping away it’s more like the deck of an Aircraft Carrier!”
As churchwarden, Sid’s ‘ministry of welcome’ extended far beyond the church building of All Saints’; though his often inventive practical gifts were amply in use therein. His Churchyard working party put not only the churchyard, but the world to rights as, refreshed by Sid’s cider, energies were re-charged beneath the trees.
Many will recall the sight of Sid on their doorstep soon after they moved in and, then, shortly after, receiving an invitation to Southdown House to ‘come and meet so and so’ and I reckon that there will be few here without warm and nostalgic memories of those wondrous Christmas gatherings in the Badminton Court there, overflowing beyond capacity, because no one could be left out. Huge preparation — the unrolling of carpets, the gathering and entwining of greenery, the lighting of fires – by teams of willing helpers under Sid’s direction and particularly, in company with Donald Wroe, the preparation and doctoring of Sid’s ‘home-brew’ vintage. So much effort! Nothing too much trouble to express a love of and concern for his fellow men — not just, as Sid wrote, ‘for what they are, but for what they could be’.
It was a love expressed in writing references to give the young just the step up needed to start them on their way, or, in a hundred different practical ways to help those taxed by advancing years and retreating capabilities. No one sought his help in vain; more than that he had an uncanny knack of anticipating when there was a need for support and action.
But, as Sid wrote, “Nothing just happens”. As one of the first laypeople to administer the Chalice at Holy Communion, there was no doubt as to the source of Sid’s inspiration and actions — a deep awareness of the love of God, nourished by years of quiet faith, and faithful and willing devotion, reflected in that sense of wonder and love, shared in his ‘Ponderings and Wonderings’. In loving partnership with Joy, it overflowed into all he did and was.
It seems so right that Sid left this life on February 2nd, CANDLEMAS, the day on which he had been moved to write — almost as his own epitaph – “One could only feel a sense of complete awe and thankfulness that all these things which we had enjoyed had happened at all”. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!
* “Odd Thoughts of an Ordinary Man” – Sid’s writings for the Parish magazine, published as a booklet.
Wing Commander Sidney Russell, Chairman of Compton & Shawford Parish Council 1970-1972, sometime Parish Magazine Editor.
Reprinted from the Compton & Shawford Parish Magazine, March 2000