The High Five
8:53 am
Thu September 5, 2013

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

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.

  • Dallas Police Defend Announcement: Dallas police alerted the public yesterday about a possible serial rapist, but the timing of the alert has some people questioning. City council members, rape victim advocates, and members of the community criticized police, saying they should have alerted the public much sooner. Dallas Police Chief David Brown says that detectives didn’t connect the first two rapes in June to the five that occurred recently until earlier this week. But some South Dallas residents wonder if the delay had anything to do with the locations of the crimes. Somone Reese, a South Dallas resident, tells The Dallas Morning News, “They probably [didn’t say anything] because it’s South Dallas and that would have seemed common or something.”
  • Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gets A Texas Grilling: The Syria debate continues on in Congress as President Obama met with the House of Representatives yesterday. The administration was grilled by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs for three hours. NPR highlighted four exchanges from that conversation, including one between Rep. Ted Poe from Texas and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey. Rep. Poe is the first one speaking in the second audio clip.
  • China Demands Pecans, But Texas Trees Can’t Provide: The pecan is the only edible nut native to America. Although the pecan was spurned by Europeans at a global food trade show, the Chinese nut buyers were impressed. The country now purchases nearly 100 million pounds of pecans a year, but Texas pecan growers aren’t exactly cashing in on their demand. Why? Texas pecan trees don’t produce the uniform size and variety China likes. [Texas Monthly]
  • Keeping Dallas Blues Alive: When Dallas’ soul and R&B station, KKDA-AM 730 “Soul 73” went off the airwaves and was replaced by a Korean station, it could’ve been the death knell for blues in Dallas. The genre flourished from the 1960’s to 1990’s before the city’s blues clubs were replaced by rock joints like Trees. But after longtime KKDA host R.L. Griffin lost his job with the station, he’s still keeping blues alive with R.L. Blues Palace #2. His old-fashioned approach (and barring patrons under 25) has helped the club flourish. [Dallas Observer]
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