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Longtime Conservative MLA Ron Russell dies at 92

 Ron Russell, shown at a news conference in Halifax in 2003, has died at 92. - File
Ron Russell, shown at a news conference in Halifax in 2003, has died at 92. - File

The man who represented Hants West for eight consecutive terms at Province House has died.

Ron Russell, 92, served three separate stints as Speaker, and held almost every portfolio, including the crucial role of government House leader during the Conservative minority government.

First elected to the legislature in 1978, the former air force pilot called it quits two months prior to his 80th birthday in 2006.

The well-liked politician’s sense of humour was evident when he admitted to a reporter that he had reconsidered retiring. But then “I rapidly move to the side and say, ‘What are you thinking?’ And my wife will kill me. I don’t know how she’s going to do it, with a gun or a bow and arrow,” he said with a chuckle.

A Chronicle Herald editorial at the time lauded his public service after he announced he wasn’t reoffering amid a battle with bowel cancer. 

“Put bluntly, Ron Russell has become an institution in his own right. His longevity in office, his parliamentary skills, his good humour and dedication to serving the public good have set the gold standard. ... And when he does take his final leave from politics come the next election, he will retire with the affection and appreciation of a grateful province.”

Windsor Mayor Anna Allen said Russell was a political mentor to her for decades, beginning with encouraging her to seek a school board seat and throughout her municipal political career. 

“That’s the reason I’m here today,” Allen said in an interview Saturday, remembering Russell’s sense of humour as well as his calm personality and approachable manner.

“I greatly admired his style and the way he was able to accomplish what he did. When he spoke you listened to him. ...  He did things in a calm nature which had more impact than those of us who sometimes scream it out.”

Russell, who lived in Windsor, died Thursday in hospital in Halifax, according to his obituary. No cause of death was given. 

Tim Houston, the leader of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives, said he was saddened to hear of Russell’s death and extended condolences to the family.

“Though I didn’t know him, his impressive reputation was legendary,” Houston said in a news release Saturday afternoon. “Mr. Russell was a dedicated public servant. . . . I have heard stories of his sharp wit, amazing sense of humour and encyclopedic knowledge of the rules of the Nova Scotia legislature. He will long be remembered.”

Former colleagues and reporters posted their condolences on Twitter.

“Very sad to learn of the passing of former @ nsgov Deputy Premier, @NSLeg Speaker & @nspc MLA Ron Russell,” said Rob Batherson, former president of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative party. “Smart, funny, tough — deepest sympathies to Jo-Marie, his sons & family.”

Veteran legislative reporter Jean Laroche said “Ron Russell was one of the adept House Leaders I have ever met. He was also a gifted politician who managed to win 8 elections in a row. He also had a wicked sense of humour which served him and NS well. RIP Ron.”

According to his obituary, Ronald Stanley Thornton Russell was born in Ngongotaha, New Zealand, the son of Irene and Sidney Russell. He's survived by his wife Jo-Marie, their three sons and two grandchildren and a stepbrother who lives in Brisbane, Aus. 

"As a young man, Ron served as a pilot with the Royal New Zealand Airforce during the Second World War and then with the Royal Australian Airforce," his obituary said. "In 1950, he joined the Royal Canadian Airforce as a pilot and served until 1973 when he retired with the rank of Squadron Leader. In 1976, he was appointed as an Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel (Wing Commander) with 420 Air Reserve Squadron."

Russell, whose nickname was "Aussie,"  joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1950 as a pilot and served until 1973 when he retired with the rank of squadron leader.

After his recovery from cancer, Russell remained active in Nova Scotia politics in an informal advisory role, "displaying the passion and energy and intelligence that had characterized his many years of dedicated public service," his obituary said.

A memorial reception will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Cruikshank's Funeral Home in Halifax. 

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