Russell’s Ramblings

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

A Life Well Lived

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William E Russell Jr and William E. Russell Sr at the Panthers Game

One month ago, I lost my father to cancer. Daddy was much more than a dad. He was my mentor, my confidante, my supporter, my best friend and the inspiration for much of what I have done in my life. My mom has also been a guiding influence and I love her dearly. But as Lewis Grizzard put it best, “My daddy was a pistol and I’m a son of a gun.”

If you’ve been a Chamber Member for a while, you may have read the countless articles and columns I have written about my father and grandfather and the lessons I learned growing up on our family farm. The house and the halls where my father and his father roamed, along with the pastures they trod, and the rich soil we turned in the garden together, hold special memories for me.

My dad, a lifelong member of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, was an Ordained Elder of the church, and served as Clerk of Session. It surprised me when I learned that he did not want a church funeral. Instead, he requested a small graveside service and a visitation of just family and close friends upon his passing.

While my Dad spent much of his lifetime committed to civic service, with years of dedication to the Red Cross, Kiwanis, Jaycees, Little League and other community activities, deep down he was simply a quiet man and was not one for show.  That’s one quality I’ve yet to learn from daddy. I have always struggled with the “humility thing” and since I was young, I kind of thought the world may indeed revolve around me.

Daddy would have been taken aback by the hundreds of people who crammed into Greene’s Funeral Home in Rock Hill on that mournful Saturday afternoon. Jaycee friends from across the state drove hours to visit with our family, and to share in our moment of reflection on the life that had impacted so many in 81 years.

In addition to the family and friends, more than 50 Lake Norman Chamber members also drove down to South Carolina for my father’s funeral. Some were former or current chamber board leadership, others were long time chamber members, and many were Lake Norman neighbors I’ve been lucky enough to meet and call friends. A few never met him, yet they all gave up their Saturday and drove for several hours through the challenges of I-77 for one reason – to show they cared. And to each you who were there on the saddest day of my life, your presence was a comfort that I will never forget.Pic A Dad

I’ve often been asked what makes the Lake Norman Chamber different from any other Chamber. The answer for me has always been simple – We are a family.  We encourage each other when we need inspiration and we’re there for each other when times are tough. And we celebrate together. This month we added to our family at the Chamber with the addition of Sylvia Spury who many may know from her 18 years of service with the Mooresville South Iredell Chamber. She has 20 years of Chamber experience and we are so lucky to have her on our team.

The past month has been one of tremendous difficulty for me personally due to the loss of my father. The announcement that Sylvia had been selected as the new Executive Vice President caused some to wonder if I had left the chamber or was retiring to our family farm. But the reality is we hired Sylvia to complement our chamber leadership team and we are very excited to have her on our staff.  She brings new ideas, vision, and synergy to our organization.  We’ve also just unveiled a new chamber website which will allow us to unleash unbridled opportunities when it comes to marketing and promoting our chamber membership.

At the end of the graveside service, after most had driven the long road home, a close friend shared a conversation that she’d had with a previous chamber board chairman. When she thanked Bob McIntosh and his wife Ann for coming to support us that day, Bob simply said, “It’s all about family. We show up because it matters. It’s what we do.”

I am grateful that the Lord gave me a great father to learn from and love.  While his saddle may now be empty, his presence in my life still fills my heart and lifts my soul, as so many of you have also done this past month.

The words Bob McIntosh conveyed that afternoon embody why I have spent 23 years at this Chamber of Commerce. We’re family here at Lake Norman. That is and will always be the difference. We do the things we do because it matters. It’s what we do.

Bill Russell, Jr.

March 6, 2019 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Barium Springs – A promise of hope

The article below appears in the August issue of Cornelius Life Magazine.

Isn’t it amazing in this fast paced world of smart phones, laptops, Facebook, and texting, it’s the simplest of things that teach us what’s really important in life. I was reminded of that by a teenager whose words made my heart tremble and brought tears to my eyes.

As the president of the chamber, I am keenly aware that while we are blessed to live in the Lake Norman region, there are still many in our community that need a helping hand. The generosity of our residents is nothing short of spectacular as we give freely of our time, talents and financial resources from Habitat Homes for single parents to Big Day at the Lake.

Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins with Bill Russell at Barium Springs Luncheon

Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins with Bill Russell at Barium Springs Luncheon

 

A few weeks ago, I attended a fundraiser for Barium Springs at The Cove Church in Mooresville.  Surrounded by approximately 400 other community and business leaders, we networked and discussed the issues of the day ranging from taxation to tolls waiting on the program to begin.  

Then the lights dimmed and I heard those words, those chilling words which seared into my soul.  I looked into the eyes which stared back into mine and the face of innocence weathered by years of abuse and neglect.  I listened as Barium Springs volunteers and school officials shared their own particular stories. Barium Springs provides an array of services for children, families and individuals throughout our state.  Their main objectives are to provide a safe home through residential homes and foster care; to heal the hurt for children who are troubled, abused or neglected; and to encourage a healthy start through educational and prevention programs.

I grew up with two parents who loved their children.  Mom and dad were both very active in the Rock Hill (SC) community serving in civic organizations like the Jaycees, Kiwanis, United Way, Red Cross and our church.  Dad worked with other kids as a commissioner of Little League Baseball and ironically daddy led an effort to create a Boys Home for kids who found themselves in need of mentoring and guidance.

To this day, when I call my mom she always ends the conversation telling me “I love you.”  And her words still warmly embrace me just as they did in my youth when she tucked me into bed each night.  Those words come harder for dad.  It’s his actions which speak louder than the words as we enjoy a Saturday afternoon football game together or a horseback ride through the woods on our family farm.

I listened that May day as teenagers told their stories of neglect.  Parents who sometimes never got out of bed, their minds and bodies wracked by years of substance abuse, leaving a trail of victims in their wake – among them their children.  Kids that before Barium Springs, never had a bed to sleep in or a pillow to rest their head. 

As I watched a short video, a young man appeared on the screen.  He spoke of the years of abuse at the hands of his father.  But it was the eyes which touched my heart. The pain and anguish that no child should ever have to endure.  Barium Springs has turned his life around and today he is a good student, involved in athletics, with a chance for a scholarship and a bright hope for the future.

 

Cody

Cody

Then he said it, those words which still bring tears to my eyes.  The first time they escaped his lips, I felt my eyes well up and I hoped those at my table wouldn’t see me weep.   At that moment in time, he was not speaking to a camera or the other 400 people in the room.  He was speaking to me when he said, “I want to grow up and be the daddy my father wasn’t.”

No one can undo the hurt or the scars they leave.  Memories may linger, but with a new day comes a promise of hope. The volunteers and contributors to Barium Springs provide that hope through support and unconditional love…and perhaps the chance to be a parent that their mother or father wasn’t.  

ill Russell

Bill Russell is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.  For information about Barium Springs, to set up a tour of their campus, or make a contribution call 704-872-4157 or visit  www.bariumsprings.org.

July 29, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), Personal, Social Causes | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Father’s Gift

Dad, his long time friend Harold Ramsey, and myself at a Carolina Baseball game.  Baseball is one of dad's passions!

Dad, his long time friend Harold Ramsey, and myself at a Carolina Baseball game. Baseball is one of dad’s passions!

Pope John XXII once said, “It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.” A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the induction of the National Honor Society at Lake Norman Charter School.  I spoke to many of the parents there, who beamed at the success of their sons and daughters.  Having parents that are involved with their children, serving as mentors, and showering them with love are the greatest gifts you can give a child.

My brother, sister and I had parents who did just that.  Father’s Day is a chance to say thank you – thank you for picking me up when I was down.   That no matter what crushing blow I felt, I would always get past it.

A dad shakes his head at your mistakes, hoping you learn, as he takes your hand, and pulls you up.  He’s there to teach you life’s lessons…and in my case, sometimes over and over again.

Billy on board dynamite - 1965

Billy on board dynamite – 1965

I was born and raised in Rock Hill (SC) and my father’s family owned a farm where he still lives.  When I was five, my parents purchased me a black and white pony that I appropriately named – “Dynamite.”  That little fellow lived up to his billing as he seemed to take great delight in throwing me time and time again.  Dad, simply picked me up and put me back on the horse, sternly counseling me, “You have to show him you’re not afraid.  You have to show him who’s the real boss.”

Between sniffles I pointed out I was afraid and there was no doubt…he was the real boss.  But dad simply sat me back up in the saddle, put the reigns tightly in my little hands and off we went. In truth, just about anywhere that pony really wanted to go which was usually to the barn!   Many including mom and Grandmamma Russell were not real happy with dad’s insistence.

Looking back though, I’m not sure who suffered more – my backside or dad’s ears.  Mama really took dad to task and to this day, none of us have forgotten those Sunday afternoons with “Billy breaking Dynamite.”   “But at the end of the day, it was an important lesson.  Life will throw you time and time again, but you have to get back up in the saddle, hold on tight, and ride the  rough out of it.  It’s okay to be a little afraid but never, ever give up.

Dad was there when I lost my first election running for president of my college fraternity.  He shared the first time he too had lost an election, but the next time out, he won his race.  He pointed out that in retrospect, he was perhaps a better leader learning from the earlier setback.  And once again, he was right.

Dad was there to help with my homework. He tried so hard to help me master the ground ball.  He tied my first tie and walked down the aisle with me the first time I said “I do.”  Mom and dad both were there to hold me when my world seemed dark and stood on stage years later when the world was so right.

Former North Carolina State Coach Jim Valvano, a life lesson himself, said of his dad, “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”

And perhaps the greatest gift a child can give to his or her parents is simply to say, “l love you both!  Happy Father’s Day, Dad.”  And while I’m at it – I love you too mom, both of you!!!

Bill Jr.

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Leadership Lessons, Personal | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Lesson of Unintended Consequences – Mecklenburg County’s Revaluation

 

Bill Russell, Sr. and Jill tending the cows on the farm

As many of you may know, my family has a farm in Rock Hill, SC where we still raise livestock and horses where they graze in the green pasture and each spring we plant a vegetable garden.  Year after year, generation after generation, we have continued that tradition since our family first settled there in the 1760’s.

Last year, my dad brought to my attention a blight which we seemed to have on our tomato plants.  We also had a pitiful, if not nonexistent, harvest of corn, beans, cantaloupes, and other assortment of goodies.     I wrote it off to bad weather – lack of rain – and perhaps some type of fungus. However, imagine my surprise when dad said again this year our plants are showing signs of disease as the leaves are withering up already.  Last year  the plants did not die – they simply did not yield and those that did looked malformed.

Dad took the soil down to the local Clemson Extension Agricultural office where they determined the manure that dad used to fertilize the soil from our livestock had a concentration of pesticide which came from the hay ingested by the cows and horses.  The pesticide used to kill the yellow weed had no harmful effects to the grass or to the livestock.  However, while not killing the plant outright, it had devastating effects on the growth and maturation of the plants and its produce.

Dad planting this year’s tomatoes

So what does manure and County Government have to do with each other?  Many of our businesses are just now aware that the revaluation, which property owners have been concerned about for months, are being passed on to many tenants in the form of CAM (Common Area Maintenance Charges) which typically are composed of insurance, janitorial, landscaping, and property taxes to name just a few.

Many of our smaller businesses including retail and key man offices are unprepared for the hefty hikes in CAM charges and are now having to figure these increases into the bottom line.  While all of our businesses and residents in Mecklenburg County have a fiduciary responsibility to pay taxes for municipal and county services including education, health and human services, transportation, and safety – these taxes should be fair and justifiable.

Data collected by the chamber of commerce indicates examples where the county’s assessment and independent evaluations are significantly different.  While the county government may be operating in compliance with rules, procedures, and an approved process which govern evaluations of residential and commercial properties, the system itself many argue is flawed and needs to be evaluated by an outside and independent review or audit.

In essence, commercial property owners and tenants are facing hardships which threaten their economic viability forcing some to make cuts in employment or in some cases close or move the business – an unintended consequence of the county’s actions.

The Chamber of Commerce will be encouraging our county officials to examine faults within the present system and correct them expeditiously.  If legislation is required in Raleigh that creates a fairer and equitable process, we will support that as well.

The good news for our family’s garden is that recognizing the problem and correcting it with nutrients we can neutralize the toxins, repair the damage to the soil and through hard work nurture a healthy crop in the future.

The lesson dad and I learned was we need to be careful just how much manure to use and be more careful what’s in it.  It’s a lesson we could all learn from whether a garden or a board room.

June 20, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , | 1 Comment