Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

The day daddy died … or didn’t

Bill Russell Sr. & Jr. - 2010 Father's Day

On a Saturday morning, August 9, 1969, WRHI, the leading radio station in Rock Hill, led breaking news that a tragic boating accident had occurred during the late evening hours the night before on Lake Wylie.  Several prominent business and community leaders had been killed and among the missing was Bill Russell, past president of the Rock Hill Jaycees – my father.  The tragedy occurred following a regional meeting of the South Carolina Jaycees.  At the conclusion of the meeting, several officers from the Clover, Gaffney, and Rock Hill Jaycee Chapters (seven Jaycees in all) decided to enjoy a late night boat cruise.

A boat piloted by a Clover Jaycee was struck head on by a cabin cruiser.  The coroner’s report later determined it to be an accident. While no one was injured in the larger vessel, two young men from Gaffney, Thomas Baines and Michael Campbell, both 26, were killed along with the President of the Rock Hill Jaycees C. Well Hayes. Wells was just 28 years old. John Every, another Rock Hill Jaycee, who would later be elected South Carolina Jaycee State President, was severely injured and never fully recovered from the incident.

When members of the Clover and Rock Hill Rescue Squad arrived on the scene, the Jaycees involved were either badly injured or missing leaving officials to speculate who might have been on the boat. My dad was Rock Hill’s chapter representative to the Clover Jaycees having helped establish the organization and it was assumed he too was on the boat and missing. Ironically, it may have been his commitment with civic service that he was not. Dad was also a Commissioner on the Rock Hill Pony League sponsored by the City of Rock Hill Parks & Recreation.  The Championship playoffs were scheduled for that weekend.  Both the Jaycee and baseball events were scheduled for a Friday night. Dad was required to be at the Pony league game in case a protest arose and a decision would have to be made at the time of protest.  That requirement may well have saved his life.  Instead of attending the Jaycee meeting, he attended the Pony League ballgame with his nine-year old son “Billy”.

My mom received a phone call early that Saturday morning from Joyce Tucker, a close friend, whose husband Charles was both a firefighter and volunteer rescue squad member. Tucker was among the first to arrive at the scene and was told Bill Russell was thought to be among the young men who were missing.  One can only wonder now the phone calls that were made that morning before the advent of cell phones and answering machines.

Upon hearing the news, my parents immediately headed out to the lake to find out first hand what had happened to their friends while at the same time, put to rest any concerns as to the safety of my father. Mom and dad proceeded to the public boat landing where the rescue and recovery was being conducted.  Upon arrival, the first person they encountered was Mary Colvin, the director of the Rock Hill Red Cross.  At the time dad was also president of the Red Cross chapter. Dad said Mary on seeing him, ran up and hugged his neck telling dad the squad was in the process of dragging the river for him.

John Every Memorial Award - Bill Russell, Doug Griffin & Ray Parlier

Twenty one years later, I was elected the first president of the Rock Hill Jaycees whose father had also served in that capacity.  We had a great year and it culminated with the Rock Hill Junior Chamber being recognized as the #1 Jaycee Chapter in the state.  We were presented a #1 Trophy and a plaque citing our outstanding achievement.  While I was thrilled with that recognition, my hands literally shook when I was presented the C. Wells Hayes Memorial Award as president of the Best Jaycee Chapter in the District.

A couple of years later, I was presented with the John Every Memorial Award for my service to the South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce.  I still remember the tears which streamed down my cheeks accepting the award. For all the reasons many in the crowd may have thought I was shedding a tear, I could not help think how fortunate I was, not for what I was receiving but for something I had … and never lost.

The Jaycee organization taught me to do what you love, love what you do, and deliver more than you promise.  I have tried to live out that philosophy in my role with that organization, the chambers of commerce I have served, and the many organizations I have chaired and been a part of as a Board or involved member.

Outgoing Junior Chamber President presenting dad the highest award from the U.S. Jaycees

I’ve come to realize three things as I approach each day. Having lost two close friends of mine recently, Scott Hinkle and Mike Shipley, both young men with their lives in front of them, I can’t help but think how precious and short life really is.  There is no promissory note.  No guarantees of what we have to look forward to in this life.  Simply, we have today and that is God’s gift to us. What we make of it is our gift back to God.

The second thing is God must really have a sense of humor. That’s why he made me a Gamecock fan. I’m convinced God made me a Gamecock to keep my humble as I go through this journey of life.

And the last thing. Well, it’s the thing that keeps the smile on my face. Knowing all the northerners will be shocked when they get to Heaven and God says, “Ya’ll come on in.” She’s got a southern accent you know.

Happy Father’s Day Dad!

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June 20, 2010 Posted by | Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) | , , , , , | Leave a comment

You are the Message

What exactly does “You are the message mean?”  Actually how we say something is just as important as the words we speak.  The hand gestures we use, the tone and pitch of the words, our eyes, smile, humor, all say volumes whether spoken or not. Professor Albert Mehrabian of UCLA determined that listeners were influenced by non-verbal facial expressions and body language 55% of the time.  Our voice – its pitch, tone, and variation accounted for 38% with the words we actually speak making up the remaining 7%. We’ve all judged speakers on whether they sounded hollow or sincere.  Did the speech come from the heart or did it sound contrived or rehearsed?  The words themselves are meaningless unless your audience believes you own them.

In 1991, I was the president of the South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), the largest young people’s civic organization in the state.  It was a one year elected position and my responsibility was to get our members motivated to exceed the goals and objectives they set for the year. While our Jaycee Chapters were in the business of raising money for a variety of charitable causes from MDA to St. Jude’s, perhaps no cause was more dear than our own state philanthropy – Jaycee Camp Hope for kids with mental disabilities.

Gene Martin accepting a Presidential Award of Honor

We had four state meetings during the year – four opportunities to fire up the troops.  I remember sitting down with one of my political advisors at the last meeting of the year.  He asked if I knew what I would say to them as they prepared to finish out the year as strong as possible. I handed him a speech about volunteerism, patriotism, and assisting the families of soldiers who were fighting in the Gulf War.  My advisor, Gene Martin, read the speech, handed it back, and told me, “Bill, that’s a great speech.  Really good stuff.  But is that what you really want to say to them?”  I admitted sheepishly, “No.  I want to tell them to go get more young people involved.  Recruit more people into the organization.  Membership is people and we’re in the people business.  The more people you have, the more money you can raise.”  Gene looked at me, removed his glasses, and said in his slow South Carolina accent, “Then go tell ‘em.  You were elected to lead.  They’ll follow you.  Just go tell ‘em what they need to do.  Bill, if you don’t do it, exactly who do you think will.”

1990 - 1991 South Carolina Jaycees - The Best of the Best

To this day I remember walking to the podium 20 minutes later.  My hands were trembling thinking about what I was fixing to say.  No notes  – no prepared remarks.  Just a short talk from the heart why we needed to get more people involved.  “We were born for this moment, the fate of our communities lie in our hands.” In 1991, the South Carolina Jaycees started the year with 4,294 members and ended with 5,008 for a net growth of +714.  Most of the new members joining in the last couple of months of that Jaycee year.  We raised nearly $75,000 for our state philanthropy Jaycee Camp Hope, and $20,000 for a new Lupus Awareness program. In addition, we raised more than $200,000 in goods and services for the victims of the Ohio Floods, who the year before had been so generous with our communities during Hurricane Hugo.  The South Carolina Jaycees were also recognized as one of the Top Five Jaycee States in America that year.

Twenty years later, I still give talks to civic groups and Chamber members urging them to be their very best. Rarely do I attempt to use prepared remarks.  I learned long ago, the best speeches come from the herart.  If you show folks how much you care, they’ll show you what they can do.  My advisor, my friend Gene Martin left me with a very valuable lesson, “Our words speak boldly of our intentions, but our actions speak louder than the words and while the words are important – we are the real message.”

June 18, 2010 Posted by | Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) | , , , , | 1 Comment

Together, we do great things!

Bill Russell, Sr. (Dad) with Traveller and Jill

A few weekends ago, I spent an afternoon helping my dad down at our farm in Rock Hill.  My father, who is retired, still maintains a farm that goes back many generations.  Actually, the land itself was settled by my family going all the way back to Colonial America.  Dad has a couple of dozen head of cattle as well two horses.  Duke, a quarter horse and Traveler, a Tennessee Walker, are his pride and joy.  Dad rides daily and enjoys spending time on the land on which he was raised.     This particular afternoon we were unloading a trailer load of hay bales when he shared with me how our Great Grandfather Morrison Russell used teams of horses to plow the grounds we now disc up with tractors.

Dad told a story he had heard once in his youth about a horse-pull at the County Fair.  That is an event where horses compete to see which one can pull a sled with the greatest weight.  One year, a local horse pulled 4,500 pounds.  The runner up pulled 4,400.  Wondering what the two could possibly do together, the two horses were teamed together.  They pulled more than 12,000 pounds!  An increase of more than 33% over their individual efforts.

While many of us are truly capable and talented, we are much stronger working together as a team.  This past month was certainly a testament to that fact with a very successful Business Expo.   While it was hot and we had a great many challenges, the staff of CPCC and our event management team transformed a transportation systems complex into an exhibit hall.  It allowed us to showcase the “Best in Business”, network, and give our members an opportunity to build relationships and expand their customer and client base.

I have been so fortunate to serve this Chamber of Commerce as the chief executive officer since 1996.  However, each and every day, I continue to be impressed by the talent we have in the Chamber in the volunteers who serve in committee roles, our dedicated Ambassadors and staff, and the strong leadership of our Board of Directors.     Each bringing a unique talent and perspective – but collectively, providing a resource that enables us to far exceed any goal or objective obtainable by a single individual or business.

Mother Teresa

The power and influence of the Lake Norman Chamber is not in the sheer number of our members but in the ability of those members to work together and effectively for a common goal.  Mother Teresa perhaps summed it up best, “You can do what I cannot do.  I can do what you cannot do.  Together we do great things.”

Whether it’s lobbing successfully to open Lake Norman for public access swimming, expediting the completion of I-485 or obtaining a magistrate for North Mecklenburg – we are certainly stronger working together.    Time after time, our Chamber overcomes obstacles some see as barriers to create memorable events.  It seems the more looming the challenge, the more resilient this chamber and its membership becomes.

Perhaps it’s because, here in the lake region, we realize that “working smart, working smart, and working together – we do great things!”

June 11, 2010 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , | Leave a comment