Marie R. Russell
VOORHEESVILLE — Hardworking and strong, Marie R. Russell was also creative. She worked for a quarter of a century as a laboratory technician in bacteriology for the state’s Department of Health and was also highly skilled at a wide variety of crafts.
She died on Saturday, July 19, 2014. She was 91.
“She was always willing to listen,” said her daughter, Maria Piccione. “She was supportive of your decisions, whether she agreed with you or not. She encouraged creativity. She was very loving. Family came first.”
Mrs. Russell was born on March 14, 1923 at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C. Her father, Erich Brusig, had been in the United States Army of Occupation in Germany after World War I where he met the woman who would become his wife. “He saw my mother...She was blonde and blue-eyed,” said Mrs. Russell in an Enterprise interview when she turned 90. “It was love at first sight.”
After the war, her father worked in a government sanatorium for tuberculosis patients while her mother stayed at home in Asheville, North Carolina, raising Marie and her two brothers. After the stock market crashed, her father got a job at Sunmount, a sanatorium in Tupper Lake in the Adirondacks, where the family moved.
There were some difficult years as her father suffered from alcoholism, which he eventually overcame.
“I forgave him,” Mrs. Russell said. “So I have nothing on the inside that I kept that would give me a bad feeling. It was only a good feeling...I really loved my father.”
Mrs. Russell also loved the Adirondacks and Tupper Lake High School, particularly studying Latin and science. She first met Farrand Russell when she was 16 on a double date at a 10-cent movie in the theater across from her Tupper Lake home.
“Farrand made me laugh,” she said.
Her relationship with Mr. Russell was as constant and blissful as the one with her father had been sporadic and difficult. The couple married on Dec. 3, 1943 in Atlanta, Ga. “He was in the service, the Air Corps, and stationed all over,” she said.
They were married for 66 years and 22 days. “He died on Christmas Day,” said Mrs. Russell. “We had a wonderful life. He was a wonderful husband and father.”
After living briefly in an Albany apartment after World War II, the couple settled on Indian Ladder Farms in New Scotland where they raised their daughter, Maria, and son, Farrand. The Russells grew both vegetables and flowers in their yard.
“I learned to can and make jelly and jam,” said Mrs. Russell. “I love to weed...When I got through, my garden was neat and clean.”
She also said, at age 90, “I just have been a busy person all my life.”
“She was creative and taught others,” said her daughter, listing the many skills her mother had taught her: knitting, crocheting, rug hooking, quilting, and sewing.
“She was an inspiration,” Mrs. Piccione went on. “She didn’t just learn the basics. She worked at it until she was a master and could make a high quality product. And she couldn’t stop thinking of something new to make. She had a lot of what we in the craft world call UFOs — unfinished objects.”
Mrs. Russell helped support her family by taking in sewing. “She did alterations for a Jewish ladies’ dress shop in downtown Albany,” said Mrs. Piccione. “She could make a man’s suit jacket.”
Mrs. Russell especially liked making things for her family. She made every room in the old house at Indian Ladder Farms special, her daughter said; she’d hang wallpaper, refinish woodwork, and braid rugs from scrap wool.
“If she found an old chair on the side of the road, she’d bring it home, strip it, and stain it,” said Mrs. Piccione. “We’d pick reeds,” she said, that Mrs. Russell would twist and weave to make the seat of a chair.
“She was the first recycler,” said Mrs. Piccione.
Mrs. Russell made many quilts for her children and grandchildren as well as creating Christmas-tree skirts and tatting ornaments.
In her later years, she was a devoted member of Nimblefingers, a group of crafters that meet at the Voorheesville Public Library. “She looked forward to Nimblefingers; that was the light of her week,” said Mrs. Piccione. “She liked to share with other people.”
Her daughter also said, “She loved being outside and gardening.” The solitude of the country gave her peace of mind.
“My dad had 40 to 50 tomato plants,” said Mrs. Piccione. “She’d can over a hundred jars and keep them in the basement.” She also canned pears and applesauce and pickles, and picked strawberries to make jam.
Mrs. Russell was a great cook, too. One of her family’s favorites was potato pancakes, and the way she made liver dumplings, “You would never know it was liver,” said her daughter. She often made her husband his favorite chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and, at Christmas time, everyone loved her raisin-filled cookies.
She nourished her family through more than just food.
“She loved her grandchildren,” said Mrs. Piccione. “She and my dad always attended Kaitlin and Kelsey’s soccer games.”
Mrs. Russell taught her children through her love and care.
“I learned from her to think for myself, to always follow the Golden Rule,” said Mrs. Piccione. “My dad was the love of her life. She and my dad, they taught us manners; they taught us to be respectful of others.”
Marie R. Russell is survived by her brother, Adolph Brusig; her children, Maria Piccione and her husband, Ron, and Farrand Russell and his wife, Maria; her grandchildren, Jennifer, Amy, Christopher, Courtney, Erich, Kaitlin, and Kelsey; three great-grandchildren; and nieces, nephews, and several sisters-in-law.
Her husband, Farrand Russell, died before her, as did her brother Edward Brusig.
Graveside services will be held at 1 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, July 26, at the Long Lake Cemetery in Long Lake, New York. Calling hours will be Friday, July 25, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Reilly & Son Funeral Home in Voorheesville (online at reillyandsonfuneralhome.com) and will conclude with a time for sharing memories at 7 p.m.
— Melissa Hale-Spencer