Tribute to former Clydesdale chief executive Bob Russell

Neil McDonald hands over the Lanark Rotary Presidents chain of office to Bob Russell, Crown Tavern, Lanark'27/5/09'Picture by Lindsay Addison
Neil McDonald hands over the Lanark Rotary Presidents chain of office to Bob Russell, Crown Tavern, Lanark'27/5/09'Picture by Lindsay Addison

THE people of Clydesdale lost not only one of its most respected and popular public servants but also a friend and champion with the sudden death of Bob Russell last Wednesday.

He was only 65 years old.

The news of his passing was greeted with genuine shock and distress by the community as a whole – far beyond his adopted home town of Lanark.

For one of Bob’s many distinctions was serving as the last Chief Executive of the former Clydesdale District Council.

Christened Robert but invariably known as Bob, he was born in September 1947 in Winchburgh, West Lothian.

He started his working life as a joiner with Crudens before going on to work with the government’s Property Services Agency in Stirling and Edinburgh.

It was with that organisation Bob went to supervise British Embassy building modernisation projects in Nigeria and Thailand between 1975 and 1981, his daughter Alison being born in Bangkok in 1980.

He always talked fondly of these days and said that it had been a valuable life lesson in seeing how other folk from cultures very different from our own lived and worked.

Indeed, one of the most frequently said things about Bob Russell since the news of his death became known was that he treated everyone, of all backgrounds, standing and status with complete even-handedness.

He and his wife Carol and their then new baby daughter moved to Lanark in 1982 where Bob had been appointed to Clydesdale District Council’s important role of director of housing. They settled in Hope Street where they lived happily for the next 24 years.

A natural, easy-going manner disguised a totally professional approach to his work and a deep-seated, genuine desire to do his very best for the council’s tenants.

These qualities together made him a very rare figure in Scottish local government of that era – a council housing director the council house tenants actually liked and respected.

The very opposite of a bureaucrat, Bob always spoke his mind, especially on issues he felt impacted on the wellbeing of the people of Clydesdale.

Never a man to get a spokesman to do his talking for him, if a council tenant made a complaint through the Gazette, Bob Russell insisted on answering the criticism in full and personally.

However, it was perhaps a telling mark of how he performed his duties as director of housing that such complaints were very rare indeed.

He made no secret of his opposition when it was announced that Clydesdale District Council would be disbanded and this area be administered as part of South Lanarkshire.

Like all the political groups on that council at the time, he felt that rural Clydesdale would be dominated by the large towns it would have to share a local authority with.

Chairing the District Council’s very last meeting as its final Chief Executive, Bob couldn’t resist a parting shot, wishing all who were going on to serve on the “Greater Hamilton Council” his best wishes.

Needless to say, Bob didn’t go on to work for South Lanarkshire Council himself but went to East Renfrewshire Council where – to no-one’s great surprise – he repeated his Clydesdale success.

It was notable that, at the changeover, the council housing stock in Clydesdale was arguably the best maintained in the whole of South Lanarkshire and the rents the lowest.

Despite the change of employment, Bob had, in the words of his close friend and fellow Rotarian Frank Gunning, “fallen very much in love with Lanark and Lanark with him and his family” and continued to live in the Royal Burgh.

Added Frank this week: “Bob will be much missed by members of both the Rotary Club of Lanark, of which he was a Past President, and Lanark Rugby Club where he was very much the guy you wanted with you in the trenches when the going got tough.

“When not contributing to the fellowship of Rotary or grinding down the opposition with the Rugby Club, Bob, as might be expected from a man who started his working life as a joiner, was very much into DIY, and an obsessive perfectionist at that!

“It was suggested that his move to a brand new house in Auctioneer’s Way in 2006 was a ploy by wife Carol to wean him off DIY, a plot which totally failed because he just switched his obsession to his now married daughter Alison’s house in St Leonard Street!”

Frank added that, through his upbringing and sporting inclinations, Bob was always very much a ‘man’s man’.

However, the arrival of his granddaughter revealed another side of his nature.

He said: “Bob doted on wee Isla, now 18 months old, and around her morphed from the stalwart grizzly bear of the Rugby Club into the big cuddly teddy bear that he really was at heart!”

This softer side of Bob’s character was already known to others in Clydesdale, especially the charities for which he was a volunteer driver; he also chaired the area’s Friends of Volunteering Committee.

He survived a serious heart problem several years ago and appeared to be recovering from recent surgery when he took a stroke and died on January 2 in Wishaw General Hospital.

Bob is survived by his wife Carol, children Mark and Alison and Isla. His funeral service is at 1.45pm on Monday at St Nicholas Church with a short service in Holytown Crematorium at 3pm.