Russell’s State funeral – a reflection of the person he was
October 24, 2014
Russell’s State funeral – a reflection of the person he was

Former parliamentarian Randolph Bertie “Rannie” Russell was laid to rest Wednesday afternoon following a State funeral at the St George’s Cathedral.

The retired parliamentarian died at the age of 86 in Barbados on Friday October 10, 2014.

The funeral service was preceded {{more}}by a public viewing.

Many filed past his body in the casket to pay their last respects as he laid in State at the House of Assembly in Kingstown from mid-morning until about 1 p.m. Shortly after 1 o’clock, the flag-draped casket was escorted from the House of Assembly building to the hearse for the procession to the St George’s Cathedral for the funeral service. Hundreds lined the street and workers watched from office windows and balconies as the procession moved in slow time to the solemn music played by the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force Band.

Russell’s State funeral reflected the person he was. Politicians — both current and former — private sector representatives, nurses, public servants and girl guides were among those who came from every strata of society to pay their last respect to the man who is said to have played a significant role in laying the foundation for the health sector and who was also a businessman and philanthropist.

“I have never met a man with more ideas than my dad. Nothing was impossible for him,” said Kirk Russell as he paid glowing tribute to his father.

The younger Russell said his father was a man of integrity and while working with the family business, his father taught him to be a man of integrity. He said that among his father’s characteristics were: a desire to do great things, honesty and integrity. He said that his father, as a politician, had a “hard choice” to make between politics and keeping his integrity intact. He said during a challenge in his father’s political life, Russell contacted him, and they had a discussion before he made that choice. He said his father chose to keep his integrity.

“My father was the best insurance policy,” Russell said of his father who was chairman of Sentry Insurance Co Ltd.

Also paying tribute to the late parliamentarian was Junior Bacchus of the SVG Indian Heritage Foundation.

Bacchus said that Russell, a direct descendant of the Indians who came here as indentured labourers, was very supportive of the setting up of the Foundation. He said Russell allowed the members to use his Tropic Breeze Hotel for meetings. He said that in 2011, the SVG Indian Heritage Foundation honoured Russell for his contribution to the development of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, in his tribute, said Russell would be remembered as a family man and a political figure of tremendous significance. He said that his multiple achievements were “extraordinary.”

Prime Minister Gonsalves said that Russell, having been born in 1927, lived through a “tumultuous period,” but was able to “shape our future as human beings and as a nation.

Speaking about the developmental role played by the late health minister, he said that without Russell it was unlikely that there would be the foundation on which the School of Nursing was built. He lauded him for his efforts in the establishment of the Kingstown Medical College.

Russell was a “trailblazer,” Gonsalves said.

Former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell, in paying tribute to the retired parliamentarian and businessman, said they had some things in common. He said they started their political lives in the 1960s and they worked together “to lay the foundation for Statehood.” He said that their relationship extended beyond just friendship and it always involved matters relating to the advancement of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Sir James lauded Russell for his role in introducing the medical college to this country, saying it was a “brilliant idea.” He also commended him for his vision of training nurses even for opportunities outside. He said Russell “realized the importance of training more nurses than we need, even for export.

“Let us put into the record the historical fact that very few businessmen made it into the parliament,” Sir James stated, as he underscored the importance of paying greater attention to the private sector in order to change perception and to build the country.

Sir James, in his usual style, was able to create a light moment at the solemn occasion, as he hinted at present day politicians’ seeming lack of will to stand up for principle or against that which they do not believe in.

Speaking of another common thing he shared with Russell, Sir James stated, “Rannie and I also have a common legacy in that we both resigned from the Labour Party, under different circumstances.”

With a smile preceded by a very brief pause, Sir James added “I say it in the context of who else has the guts to resign from anything these days?”

Methodist Church local preacher and former Speaker of the House of Assembly Monty Maule, in the eulogy, said Russell developed a keen interest in politics at a very early age and aligned himself at first with the People’s Political Party (PPP) and then joined the St Vincent Labour Party (SVLP). He said that in 1967, Russell was elected to the Kingstown Town Board and two years later he became chair. He said he was first elected to parliament and represented the East Kingstown constituency until 1984, when his party lost the elections. He said that two of his achievements were: his role in relocating and developing the School of Nursing and the establishment of the medical college.

Speaking of Russell’s integrity, Maule said the former parliamentarian had expressed disgust for any form of corruption.

Business magnate Ken Boyea also paid tribute to Russell, who was a former business associate. Boyea said the business sector cannot lay back and accept a funeral service as the only tribute to Russell. He said that over the next few months members of the private sector will have to sit down and discuss ways of honouring the former parliamentarian and astute businessman, as a means of showing appreciation for his contribution to the development of this country.

Meanwhile, Boyea has already proposed the redevelopment of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie setting at Wallilabou into something of a museum or park for Russell. He said tourists have been visiting the area as an attraction, but he was disturbed by the fact that a site of such historic importance and a tourist attraction was allowed to deteriorate. He said that, however, instead of tourists coming to a set for a movie in which Hollywood star Johnny Depp was involved, they should be coming to see a facility reflecting the contributions of Russell.

The former parliamentarian and businessman is survived by his wife of 58 years, Gwendoline “June” Russell; sons Stephen, Dale and Kirk; grandchildren, other relatives and friends.

Russell’s body was laid to rest in the churchyard.