Russell’s Ramblings

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

Finding Light in the Darkness

The following article was written expressly for the May issue of Flame. To read articles written by other Lake Norman Business and Community Leaders visit:  https://bit.ly/2zxxktD

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “In every individual’s life, comes that special moment when he or she will be called upon to do something great, and what a tragedy it would be, if at that moment, they were unprepared for the task.”

G Russell May Flame

Granddaddy Russell working in his garden.

Growing up as a boy, I would spend weekends with my grandparents.  On a Saturday night after supper, Granddaddy Russell and I would sit on the backdoor steps where he would polish his shoes.  He always wanted to look his best for Church the next morning.

I still recall one evening when he asked, “Billy, have you got those shoes shined up for church tomorrow?”  I recall answering that my shoes were still shined from the week before.

Not one to be deterred, Granddaddy examined my shoes, gave me a stern look, and simply handed me the brush and polish.  Granddaddy would sometimes spit on his shoes as he polished them to bring them to a high luster. And I would spit on my shoes as well, because that’s what granddaddy did.

Afterwards we would retire to the dining room table to do our “lessons.”  That’s what he called reading and studying the bible passages we would review the next day in Sunday School.  I would have much rather watched television, but granddaddy said we had to study for church.  “But why do we have to read all that?” I would ask.  “We’ll be reading it again tomorrow.”  He would point out.  “You need to be prepared.”

As I write this column, we are three weeks into a “Stay at Home” order imposed by Mecklenburg Country and the State as we wrestle with the physical and economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. The illness has already claimed thousands of lives here in America and could rage on for weeks to come.

I am not sure anyone in the world foresaw the severity of this outbreak and there is no question our federal and state agencies were unprepared. As grave as this issue may be, I do believe we can emerge from it a much better community and nation.

Few of us will ever face a crisis as dire as this event unfolding before us. While the community, country and world are filled with anxiety and fear, there are many who are emerging as leaders. Not just the healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines, but everyday Americans looking to lend a helping hand. Whether it’s as simple as donating to a cause or delivering food and other essentials to those in need, our community is pulling together!

This temporary pause also gives each of us time to reflect on what is important not only in our business but in our personal lives. Each of us can use this time to reprioritize goals and set new objectives.  A great many of us have discovered new technologies to communicate with clients and friends which we not have previously utilized.

But the biggest opportunity may be the opportunity to be the person you can be after the pandemic and not the person you were going to be.

As a little boy, I could not have imagined that a virus could single handedly stop the American economy and hold our nation hostage. But perhaps this is the moment in time Sir Winston Churchill spoke about. An opportunity when we are called upon to be our absolute best – and a time when we dare not fail in that task.

W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE, IOM
President & CEO
Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

May 3, 2020 Posted by | Leadership Lessons, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Bless You Mrs Trumbell

The following column was written for a special publication called Flame. The contributors to this monthly online publication are business leaders and coaches in the Lake Norman region. I am fortunate to be a contributor.  Below is my column about a woman who used Faith to influence my life – Mrs Trumbell, a Bible Teacher who visited Finley Road Elementary School in Rock Hill, SC when I was a little boy. This article was written Pre-Pandemic.

A couple of weeks ago, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce hosted a luncheon which was keynoted by Mark Johnson, North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. He shared what our public schools are doing to get students “Career Ready” as they look at two- or four-year institutions. According to Mark, some students are pursuing apprenticeship programs, while others may elect to go straight into the workforce.   The Chamber also used the luncheon to recognize three Lake Norman teachers as the Outstanding Educators of the Year.

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson, N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction speaks to Lake Norman Chamber members on what teachers are doing to get today’s students “Career Ready.” Photo by John McHugh, Ocaid Photography

As we sat at our tables during lunch, invariably the subject of “Which teacher influenced you the most came up.” I listened intently as several business owners and managers shared their stories, recalling fondly, how this special instructor significantly touched their life.

Leaving the luncheon, someone stopped to ask me, “Was there a special teacher in my life?”  To be sure, there are quite a few memorable mentors who have made an indelible impression. But the individual who comes to mind was not an educator in the conventional sense. She wasn’t paid to do her job, yet she had one of the most fulfilling roles any teacher was ever provided.

When I was in third grade, a retired lady would visit our elementary school once a month.  She would hand out little red Bibles to the children and spend half an hour telling Bible stories.  Our parents had to sign an approval form before we could attend her story telling sessions.  Those who did not want to participate could go to the back of the room and take a nap or play with some of the games and puzzles kept there.  However, many of us chose to listen to Mrs. Trumbell’s stories of David and Goliath and King Solomon’s Mighty Temple.

Today, fifty years later, children do not have the choice between taking a nap and Bible stories.  Religious displays have been banned in public buildings and on municipal grounds. As we approach the Easter Season, you are not likely to see offensive crosses to some in a retail store, but there will be bags of candy and plenty of baskets for the Easter Bunny.

Prayer in school, invocations at sporting events, and references to the Ten Commandments are being challenged by the ACLU and those who are offended at the thought of religion threatening their freedoms.  Separation of church and state is their battle cry.

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting in which the discussion centered on the declining work ethic in today’s employees.  The Internet is filled with marketing campaigns by major retailers with strong sexual images targeting millennials and we continue to read heartbreaking stories committed against children by their parents.

The state of our workforce, our families, and our communities tell me that people like Mrs. Trumbell are sorely missed.  I agree you cannot legislate morality. However, we as parents, community leaders, and volunteers can work with children and help them understand and appreciate simple values.  The education the children receive at home, through the examples set by parents, are stronger than any instruction they can receive at school.

An issue I am very concerned about is the very bitter, divisive way we treat each other in social media.  Friends, coworkers, and family members are using adjectives such as racist, sexist or perhaps just ignorant, if someone dare disagree on political policies or candidates.  Perhaps a greater concern for me personally, is what impact does that have on our children – the generation which will succeed us tomorrow?

The students educated today are the business and community leaders of tomorrow.  I applaud our elected leadership who insist God still has a place in our society.  To whom we pray is less important than the fact we should pause each day and give thanks for the blessings from above. We are all so fortunate to live in a nation founded on strong principles and paid for by the blood, toil, and sweat of the generations who came before us.  We should never forget the sacrifices made by so many so that we could enjoy the privileges we have today.  And let us pause and give thanks for these blessings, while America still has a prayer.

W.E. “Bill” Russell CCE, IOM

President & CEO

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

 

 

April 7, 2020 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Lessons, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Guiding Light – Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

ChristmasThe Christmas season has always been my favorite part of the year. I cherish time spent with close friends and family and love all of the festivities and holiday decor that it brings. For many of us, this is the time to pause our hectic schedules and remember the true meaning of Christmas, and also reflect upon the past as we look to the future.

The past 11 months have been very challenging for me. I lost my father very suddenly in January. Dad wasn’t just a parent. He was my guiding star, my mentor, my confidant and the person I have strived most to emulate in my professional and civic career. Certainly, my Mom played a critical role in my life raising my brother, sister and me. She purchased most of our clothes if she didn’t make them herself. Then she stitched them back together when we wore them out.

Mom nursed us when we were sick, comforted us when we were in distress, and loved on us even when we were bad. (Okay, mostly it was me who was bad!) And while I love my Mom to the moon and back, I was always a daddy’s boy. I admired how involved he was in our community. As a kid, I was so proud watching him play ball, stand up and give a talk in front of the church, and when called upon – serve as the president or chairman of so many different local civic groups.

Later in life, when I led some of the same organizations that my Father guided in prior years, he counseled me. Perhaps his greatest advice when I was faced with several controversial decisions was, “Do the right thing no matter how unpopular it may be. Don’t make a decision in the moment because you’re going to remember it for a lifetime.” He also shared, “We do not choose when we set an example!”

Dad was never an executive with a chamber of commerce, though he was involved with the Rock Hill Chamber. But he recognized how much I enjoyed civic service and encouraged me to pursue a career in association management. This year marks 27 years at the helm of a chamber of commerce helping businesses grow and prosper while making it a great community to live, work, and play.

The hardest thing this year has been going through the boxes and boxes of personal papers, mementos, pictures, and notes at our family farm. I thought I was a pack rat until I started going through Dad’s closets and storage areas and emptying the attic at his home. Among the many letters and papers I found was a copy of a note he wrote to my brother’s daughter who was joining the church. In the letter he cited two guiding principles he relied on. One was a scripture verse from the New Testament, Matthew 5 Chapter 16; “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”Tree 3

The other was a line from the Jaycee Creed: “Service to humanity is the best work of life.” As I continued to read the letter, tears welled up in my eyes as I could hear his voice. The cadence of his words spoke boldly of his thoughts. The thoughts speaking to intention, and the intentions which were louder than the words. As I set the box of letters aside, I thought about how Dad’s life was a candle which burned brightly against the darkness. Before his flame flickered out too soon at the age of 81, he completed a lifetime of work, and left his community much better than he found it.

It was late as I finished for the night. I walked outside on the back deck and looked up at the twinkling stars.  The moon was full, and I peered across the pasture to the old ragged barn silhouetted against the horizon.

I couldn’t help but think in this Christmas Season what those travelers from the East thought two thousand years ago as they followed their star. Those three wise men who left behind their life and followed the light. The journey they made and the legacy we remember.

As I stood in the crisp country air, I heard the sound of a young calf piercing the darkness and felt a warm rush against the nighttime chill. It was as if my Grandmother was throwing a shawl around my shoulder to keep me warm….as she had many times when I was a child. In that moment, I could feel the love that surrounded me and the lessons that Dad left. Among them,  “It’s not just about the destination we seek but the journey along the way … and the many lives we touch getting there.”

In this holiest of seasons, I wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Bill Russell

December 23, 2019 Posted by | Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Promise to Keep

Bill on Dynamite

Bill Jr. on Dynamite with William E Russell Sr. – 1966

When I was just a young boy, I would ride my little pony from my Grandparent’s house to my Great-Grandfather’s home. The small white house sat perched high on a hill overlooking the lush pastureland where cattle grazed lazily on those warm summer days.

Great-Granddaddy Adkins would always give me with one piece of “Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum” for the pony ride over to see him. It hardly seems now that such a small token was incentive enough for a little boy, but at the time, it was a coveted treasure and well worth the ride. When he passed away in 1966, the old home which had served our family so well, stood vacant, a silent sentinel guarding the memories of lives lived well.

I found out some time later that the old farm house, which initially had been a log cabin held together by timber and mud, had gone back many generations. It had been deeded to my ancestors during the time of King George of England.

Unfortunately, after Granddaddy Adkin’s death, the proud old manor fell into disrepair and eventually time and mother nature took their toll. The roof sagged, its once sturdy walls collapsed, and a few decades ago it was torn down before the cattle, or worse, a family member or hunter, was hurt venturing into the failing structure.  A house which welcomed back Revolutionary and Civil War Veterans, providing a warm shelter and home for my family for generations, lost its battle against time.

Many Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce Members may not know of the Chamber’s commitment to our historical and cultural past. In 1997, I was contacted by Reverend Jeff Lowrance about joining the Board of The Hugh Torance House and Store in Huntersville.  Rev. Lowrance knew of my passion for history and the store is the oldest standing attraction of such designation in North Carolina.  It also has special interest to me, given its historical place in regional commerce and trade in Mecklenburg County, and specifically Lake Norman.

I have served as President and chaired the Hugh Torance Board since 2007 and all 23 of the Chamber’s Leadership Lake Norman classes have toured the local treasure as has our Junior Leadership program. In addition, the Chamber’s Young Professionals organization recently conducted a very successful fundraiser for the repairs of the House & Store. The Huntersville Town Board has also generously supported efforts to preserve this precious piece of our history and a Grant submission is being reviewed by Lowes Company.

Leader resized

Bill Russell leads a tour of the Hugh Torance House and Store to Leadership Lake Norman participants.

Mark Twain once said, “We can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been!” While our Chamber is not only committed to the economic well being of our community and region – we will continue to work to enhance our quality of life and protect the cultural and historical past which has made the Lake Norman region a great place to live, work, and visit!

I have watched a piece of my own family history return to the dust from which it came.  It is important that we do not let a true community treasure like the Hugh Torance House & Store meet the same fate. If we do not owe it to the people who settled here, then it is certainly a responsibility we have to the generation who will inherit our community and region next. A debt to our past and a promise to keep for our future!

Bill Russell

September 16, 2019 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment