Jerry Russell, Founder Of Stage West And Dad Of Wendy Davis, Dies At 77

Sep 5, 2013

Five stories that have North Texas talking: Sen. Wendy Davis' father Jerry Russell dies, Dallas police are on the defense, China has a love for pecans and more.

Jerry Russell, a legendary director and actor who founded Stage West, a Fort Worth theater company, died Thursday. He was 77.

Russell died following complications from abdominal surgery, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

Russell’s death was announced by his daughter, state Sen. Wendy Davis, who had delayed her decision on whether to run for Texas governor so she could care for him. In June, Davis, a Democrat, gained national attention after conducting a lengthy filibuster against an abortion bill at the Texas Capitol.

“We, and the community, will forever be grateful for the significant impact he made on our lives,” Davis wrote on her Facebook page. “He and his warm, sparkling brown eyes will be deeply missed. My family and I thank you for surrounding us with your prayers and comfort during this time.”

Russell was in the middle of directing the current show at Stage West, Thank You, Jeeves, when he became sick. Russell had been hospitalized for several weeks at Harris Methodist Hospital.

Russell founded Stage West in 1979 in downtown Fort Worth. The group first operated out of a 65-seat storefront theater next to Russell’s European Sandwich Shoppe. Stage West soon moved to a larger space and is now located on West Vickery Boulevard.

Through the years, Stage West has become a respected regional theater, producing more than 225 shows, ranging from Shakespeare to Broadway plays and musicals.

Russell took part in several Stage West performances, including The Seafarer in 2009, which Art & Seek's Jerome Weeks praised for "[serving] it like devil's food cake." 

Arts groups and arts fans are starting to post tributes on Stage West’s Facebook page.

In 2002, Davis wrote about her dad and his competitive spirit in this piece that ran in the Star-Telegram:

"I wonder if he knows that he gave me the belief in myself to run for public office.

"I can still see myself on the day I graduated from law school, walking across the stage and into his arms. I see him holding me, sobbing because he was so proud. “I was able to do this because of you, Dad,” I should have said. And now, I can say it.

"I am who I am because of you, Dad."

From Sen. Davis' Facebook page:

I am heartbroken to report that my father, Jerry Russell, passed away peacefully in the early hours of this morning. He was surrounded by his children and his wife, our stepmom, Suzi. During his time in the hospital, there was never a moment that one of us wasn't by his side. We, and the community, will forever be grateful for the significant impact he made on our lives. He and his warm, sparkling brown eyes will be deeply missed. My family and I thank you for surrounding us with your prayers and comfort during this time.

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