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1930 Nancy 2020

Nancy Hinton Russell

October 25, 1930 — January 24, 2020

Nancy Hinton Russell died at home in her sleep on January 24, 2020. She was 89 years old.

Credited as being the rock of her large family, Nancy was considered by many a force of nature, admired equally for her beauty and her grit. She placed the highest value on strength of character and maintained exacting standards for every undertaking, whether it was laying a table for a family meal or rebuilding a life torn apart by the Vietnam War. Her keen mind was fully engaged by the discourse of the day. In her later years, she spent mornings on her laptop at her antique desk, conducting an extensive correspondence with family and friends across three generations. Just months before she died, she set out on a road trip from Atlanta to Montgomery to visit the newly opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

Nancy was born on October 25, 1930, in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, to a family with roots in both rural Missouri and Chicago society, from whom she inherited Midwestern ideals of pragmatism and endurance. Nancy and her older sister and brother nursed their mother, who was beset by lupus, through the arduous final years of her life while their father was fighting overseas during World War II. Young Nancy was an avid sportswoman-fly fishing, hunting, and riding horses-who equally loved acting and the theater. She enrolled in Sweetbriar College in part because of their renowned riding program. She left college to live in Fontainebleau, France, where her father was assigned to Allied Forces Central Europe. On her return to the States, Nancy pursued a career as a flight attendant with American Airlines. She found these years of working and living with other independently minded young women particularly fulfilling and was proud of proving herself cool under pressure when tested in the field. One close call involved faulty landing gear.

In 1954, Nancy met Walter B. Russell, Jr., a young West Point lieutenant recently decorated in the Korean War. By his own account, Walt was smitten at first sight by the beautiful redhead, and he doggedly set out to win Nancy’s hand, which she found an amusing folly at first. They wed later that same year, were married for 61 years (until Walt’s death in 2016) and had five children together.

Nancy took in stride the rigors of married life in the Army, which included relocating nine times in eleven years and often having to fulfill the roles of both parents. While Walt was away training to be a Ranger or on assignment, Nancy managed the family alone, from teaching her oldest son to throw a baseball to giving birth to their fourth child. This happy, if demanding, life was derailed in 1965 when a sniper's bullet in Vietnam caught Walt in the head, resulting in extensive permanent paralysis. The doctors said he would never walk again and advised him to resign himself to a homebound life of watching television. Together, Walt and Nancy rejected that verdict. Nancy worked with Walt daily on the extensive home therapy he required during a long year of rehabilitation, refusing to coddle, insisting that he learn to fend for himself. When Walt announced he planned to attend Emory Law School, she dismissed the skeptics and declared that she would carry his law books to class herself if necessary (it never was). Walt credited her entirely for his rehabilitation and subsequent considerable achievements.

Nancy started her own wallpaper hanging business, the rare woman in the field. The enterprise quickly bloomed, but she refused to expand, typically preferring the solitary pursuit of skill and artistry to the spotlight. The daughters who assisted her from time to time well knew the challenges of meeting Nancy’s expectations when it came to the nuanced gluing and trimming of handmade papers and delicate fabrics. The same went for most things. God forbid if the bacon wasn’t crisp or the handshake not firm. But one rarely failed to benefit in some way from her insistence on the highest standards. Stand up straight and hold your head up, no matter what.

With children she was all tenderness. When you were sick, she was who you wanted-although the sight of a jar of Vicks in her hand was often met with mixed emotions! When she opened a book and put on her reading voice, you felt something important was taking place. In her hands, the peeling of an artichoke to its heart was an act of magic. This was precisely how much cream and sugar it took to bring out the strawberry in the strawberries. Her message was simple and clear: details matter. There is meaning in the care with which you wrap a gift. Her joy in small things became yours.

Nancy-mother, sister, grandmother, mother-in-law, aunt, and friend--we will miss you. Who will supply that poet’s name when we forget? How will we know how to pronounce that oddly spelled word in French? With whom will we be awestruck by the noble habits of elephants? Life provided its challenges, but you rose to every occasion.

Nancy Hinton Russell is survived by her children, Walter B. Russell, III (Sally); Emily Russell (John); Betty Hinton Russell (Peter); Stuart Brevard Russell (Kate); Anne Russell Eiswirth (Rick); and her sister, Bettina Hinton Bass. Her husband, Lt. Col. Walter B. Russell, Jr., and brother, Col. John Hinton, Jr., preceded her in death. She is also survived by her grandchildren, John Alexander Russell, Andrew Hinton Russell, Sara Elise Russell, Emily Russell Kuper, Alexandra Minetree Jones, Richard Samuel "Ike" Eiswirth III, Jackson Walter Eiswirth, Sarah Jo Green, Joshua Galen Green, and great-grandson Ryder Allen Reynolds. She also leaves behind her goddaughter Betty Bass Hall; “other” daughters Elisabeth Handley and Terri Carter; and her beloved caretaker and friend Vickie Lucas.

A burial service for family and friends will be held on Saturday, June 27, 2020, at the Russell Family Cemetery in Winder, Georgia, at a time in the late afternoon to be announced.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (sheldrickwildlifetrust.org). Please mark checks, "In Memory of Nancy Russell."

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Nancy Hinton Russell, please visit our flower store.

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