What’s In a Name?

SPRING15russell-union

The Fielding D. Russell Student Union is at the heart of Georgia Southern campus life. It is where literally hundreds of students go every day to meet, study, unwind, share a meal or simply hang out with friends.

However, what do students really know about the man in the painting near the Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement?

He is Fielding Dillard Russell, a highly regarded English professor who forged a magnificent legacy during his 43 years of service to Georgia Southern. In 1989, then-Georgia Southern President Nicholas Henry broke with tradition and announced that the college would name a new building for someone who was still living. He wanted to recognize Russell’s lifelong dedication to Georgia Southern and its students.

“I don’t think the announcement increased his desire to die, but it did make him a very happy man,” said the professor’s daughter, Virginia Russell (‘72, ‘13), who resides in Statesboro. “He and my mother came to Statesboro in the fall of 1932. They lived in Deal Hall as something like dorm parents to the men who were residents. Their housing arrangement was a fortunate one for them, since they lost the first two months of his salary after the failures of two different banks.”

During his years at Georgia Southern, Russell established personal connections with his students, remembering them by name and staying in contact with many for years after they graduated.

SPRING15russell-union-1“My father’s love of his students lasted his entire life,” Virginia said. “Every spring he and my mother hosted a tea for graduating seniors (not just English majors – all Georgia Southern Seniors). He invited exchange students to eat Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner with us, and his former students came by to see him when they were in town.”

By the time he retired in 1975, the beloved scholar had served as the dean of men, a boxing coach, chair of the English Department and chair of the Division of Languages. He established the Campus Life Enrichment Committee, which continues to sponsor major cultural programs and lectures on campus. Former colleagues, students, friends and family say Russell was a true “Renaissance Man” who had a deep love of words and language.

“My memories of Uncle Fielding are fond,” said Jessica Keeley, the wife of Howard Keeley, Ph.D., director of the Center for Irish Research and Teaching at Georgia Southern. “I remember him quoting Shakespeare and reciting Chaucer in old English. A quicker man with a pun I have yet to encounter.”

Russell was born in Winder, Georgia, one of 15 children born to Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Russell and Ina Dillard Russell. His oldest brother, Richard, served in the U.S. Senate from 1933 until his death in 1971.

The scholar’s daughter Virginia earned a Master of Education and Master of Fine Arts from Georgia Southern and signed up for her father’s advanced grammar class when she worked on her first master’s. “I had heard him make many speeches because he was asked to speak often and never turned down any invitation that I know of,” she said. “Seeing him as a professor was another entire experience. He was completely involved with the class – funny, animated and articulate. I had never had much aptitude or interest in grammar before that time, but I left the class with both.”

Russell Union, built at an initial cost of $7.5 million, houses a Chick-fil-A, a Starbucks, a ballroom, a computer lab, a large lecture hall, a small grocery store and quick-serve deli, as well as many offices and meeting rooms.

Virginia Russell said she remains touched that Georgia Southern recognized and honored his contributions to the school. “He was never in politics; he never had money, but what he had he gave to Georgia Southern and its students,” she said. “His gift was himself.” – Sandra Bennett

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