As I sat on my couch, stunned at the news of the passing of our dear friend, Sandi Russell, I lapsed into a few moments of depression, followed by an angry outburst directed at this damned disease and the good folks who deserved a better break just to live out their golden years peacefully. Sandi was a good soul who experienced a tough life within her immediate family, yet found an inner- spirit and energy to help others who were in need. She was a strong-willed person who enjoyed being an important part of numerous fundraisers in Boston. She always seemed to volunteer her expertise as a word processor, later renamed “computer expert.”
It seems like only four years ago that Sandi went through her initial battle with breast cancer which included surgery and many Chemotherapy treatments. During this tough ordeal, she continued to work on our popular Globe Santa Auction, held during the past several years at the Rattlesnake Bar & Grille, which unfortunately closed its doors during the winter of 2016. She never openly complained about her illness or her personal circumstances with people in general…with the exception of a few close friends she confided with. I recall many times spent on the phone, listening to her vent about things that were really bugging her. She would end our conversation with a sigh and a quiet comment… “Ah, so what are ya’ gonna’ do?” There seemed to be a myriad of things that bothered Sandi through the years, some more serious than others, yet her willingness to help our committee of friends for the old “Cheers for Children Auction” was more important than everything else on her plate. Her support for the big auction dates back almost 35 years when we kicked off the first event at the legendary Bull & Finch Pub on Beacon Street.
When the Bull & Finch became the big “Cheers” attraction for Bostonians and its legions of thirsty tourists, the auction began to attract local celebrities and bigger crowds. This, of course, meant more time and work spent preparing for the big night. It was also Sandi’s time to shine. She became the brains of the auction, logging in all the donated items, including all the info regarding who and where the items came from. Her organizational skills were superior…much more so than any combination of our team of committee members. Yes sir!!! It was Sandi’s time to shine and I recall her change in attitude around the table, from her normal, quiet personality, to THEE person in charge. She had all the answers and knew exactly who was slacking off procuring donations.
Sandi was always prompt when we had our meetings, sitting quietly with her first drink – vodka with plain tomato juice and no frickin’ fruit or veggies. New members on our committee would inquire about the person in charge of providing the big spread-sheets, and logging in all the donations. We would simply point to the little lady in the baggy jeans, who 99.9% of the time wore a baseball cap adorned with her special collection of pins; some from the Red Sox and others from the Boston Police and Fire Departments. I remember inviting her to numerous, up-scale events at the Hampshire House,
you know, dressy affairs – mostly white collar business attire. But then Sandi would appear, taking the evening’s attire to a new level…proudly wearing her dual-colored Red Sox cap. Sure, she got cold stares and dirty looks, but she didn’t care. If anyone admonished her for her attire, they would soon realize the incredible wrath of Sandi Russell was about to ruin their lovely evening. Yet, she remained a sincere, one-of-a-kind character, in the kindest sense of the word.
Over these last years, I drove Sandi into Boston for all the meetings and during the drive in, she would go over her own, private minutes for the night, including her list of folks who were going to hear from her regarding their sub-standard procurement of auction items. On the way home, with two vodka and tomato juice cocktails under her hat, she lamented the fact she may have possibly been too rough with her comments to certain committee members. That was soon forgotten as we neared the end of our 22-mile trek. These were tough times for Sandi because she learned that she had the Cancer in her lung and would be facing more Radiation and Chemo treatments. She lamented the fact that the first few days after each treatment left her tired and exhausted, “so please tell people not to call me,” she said. At the same time, she was getting over the loss of her mother who resided in Florida for years. This was a very long and drawn out situation, with too many short trips to check on her mom in the Fort Lauderdale area. Then she was faced with the task of caring for her daughter, Patty, and her very difficult health issues. She was also being consumed by a huge amount of hospital visits during this period and the stress of dealing with these important issues and appointments, including her own, was wearing her down.
Her last few months she stayed at home except for her many medical appointments. She talked openly with me about the pain she was experiencing, and the shots she needed that would help her take a few naps, relax, and deal with small, everyday things we all take for granted. I knew she liked my long-winded e-mails, and the occasional phone calls. Sandi also enjoyed hearing from friends, yet as each day wore on, the afternoons were difficult…it was the morning hours that became her up-time. I was so very glad I had stopped by with my wife, Marcia, just to sit with her and chat about things she had on her mind. With a big hug goodbye, I told her that I couldn’t find the right words to say, and she cut me off, saying… “I know Ed, not to worry darlin’…I completely understand.” The ride home was very difficult for both Marcia and I, indeed. Sandi was a trooper through all her battles with this devastating disease, and then there were the more lucid times she amazed the hell out of me. I just wanted everyone on this earth to know that this little lady had a big heart when it came to helping others, and she never really got the credit for her hard work…no trophy…no proclamation…just a big hug and a “Thanks Sandi” from her friends was good enough for her. I will never forget the likes of Sandi Russell and that old Red Sox cap with her cherished pin collection. Rest in peace dear friend.
Now raise your damned glass of vodka and plain tomato juice, (hold the fricken’ fruit and veggies), and give a big toast – “Cheers to Sandi…a Top-Shelf Lady and a true Friend.”