Special to The Bedford Citizen
Thelma Russell, who brought dedication, diversity, and dignity to Bedford over two generations of community service, died on July 29 at the age of 90.
Editor’s Note: Rev. Mar Imsong will conduct a Memorial Service for Thelma Russell beginning at at 1 pm on Saturday, August 4 at the Bedford Funeral Home, 167 The Great Road, with visiting hours to follow until 5 pm. Click this link to read Mark Russell’s appreciation of his mother in the program for her memorial service
Thelma Lee (“Tee”) Lassiter was born in February 1928 into a family of North Carolina sharecroppers. She was 12 when her family moved north to Everett, MA, where she graduated from high school in 1946.
Thelma met Harold Russell at a factory job in Chelsea; they were married in December 1952. After they moved to Boston, Thelma began her nursing career, first as a “candy striper” volunteer and, following certification, as a licensed practical nurse.
The Russells moved to Carlisle Road in Bedford in 1962, where they brought up three sons. The town was in transition from a community of farms and small manufacturing to a rapidly growing suburb along America’s Technology Highway, Route 128.
Mrs. Russell began working as a geriatric nurse in Waltham for the company that in 1982 became a component of Carleton-Willard Village, retiring in 1995. We loved “Tee” and her beautiful smile and fancy hats which brought such joy to our residents,” said Barbara Doyle, director.
“Bedford is where my mother began her work in community service, in the elementary classrooms, teaching the story of The Green Circle, about tolerance, empathy, and acceptance,” her son Mark said.
Shortly after moving to Bedford, the family joined the First Baptist Church, and Mrs. Russell sang in the choir and served on the Board of Deacons. “She was a regular at Bible study, visited nursing homes and helped with vacation Bible school,” said long-time church member Twyla Wanamaker. “She was a woman of faith.”
In the 1970s, Mr. and Mrs. Russell served on the Bedford Council on Human Relations, formed to promote racial peace and equality. They were among the founding members of Concerned Black Citizens of Bedford, doing community advocacy, sponsoring black history events and providing scholarships to graduating high school seniors.
Irving Smith, also a founder of CBCB, recalled the group’s fund-raising dinner-dances at the Hanscom NCO Club. “The Russells were instrumental in the success of the dinner-dances because they knew so many people in the area,” he said.
Mrs. Russell served for several years on the town Public Ceremonies Committee, which planned and executed Memorial Day and Bedford Day celebrations and assisted the Bedford Minute Men with Independence Day celebrations. “When I think of Thelma, I think of her hats,” laughed Fay Russo, a fellow committee member and now director of Town Center.
Bobbie Ennis, a member of the Bedford Social Club with Mrs. Russell, agreed. “She was a very distinguished, classy and stylish lady – with a flair for hats,” she remembered. “She had a great sense of humor and a heart of gold.”
Baptist Church intergenerational retreats in Maine were annual weeks of rest for Mrs. Russell when someone else would make the meals,” recalled Mrs. Wanamaker. But there was no break in the millinery effort – “she always brought more hats.”
“The example of the way my mother lived her life was obvious to all who knew her,” Mark Russell said. “Be caring and kind to others; always lend a helping hand to those in need; do whatever you can to make a positive difference in the lives of others.”