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News > OP updates > Obituaries > Dennis Russell RIP

Dennis Russell RIP

Dennis
Dennis

Dennis Russell
OP 1952
27 February 1934 - 7 December 2022

With grateful thanks to Dennis' sons, Stuart and Nick

Dennis Russell, was born in Portsmouth on February 27th, 1934, to William John Russell and Ivy May Russell, née Payne. He was an older brother to Michael, born in 1947.

His was not a wealthy family, but his parents instilled in him a love of reading, learning, and music. When not playing football or cricket on the common, he served as head chorister at Portsmouth Cathedral, earning the princely sum of 5/- for weddings and 10/- for funerals. During the nightly bombing raids that laid waste to Portsmouth, he would sing songs for the families waiting out the night in the air raid shelters, until, fortunately, he and his mother were evacuated to Keyhaven.

After the war, he attended Portsmouth Grammar School. He was a good athlete, playing on the football, rugby, and cricket teams, and an excellent scholar. He was also a very good chess player. With his lifelong friend John Brown, he shared first prize in the Sir William Dupree chess tournament—the then-astronomical sum of 100 pounds (twenty times his weekly wage of 5 pounds as a deckchair attendant on Southsea sea-front). 

In 1952 he became the first in his family to go to university: he won a scholarship to Brasenose College, Oxford, where he read Greats. He joined the Oxford University Air Squadron, based in Kidlington, and learned to fly, so that he could do his National Service in the Air Force.

In the summer of 1953 he met Averil Davies, also of Portsmouth, and soon after that he asked for her hand in marriage. She politely declined but gave him permission to ask again in six months. She accepted the second proposal, and Dennis and Averil were married at St Simon’s, Southsea, in July 1956.

After Oxford, he joined the RAF as a pilot, initially at Middle Wallop and then at Hullavington. Soon after completing his National Service, he and Averil moved from Portsmouth to London, buying their first house in Southgate, North London. They embarked on their careers, Averil as designing coats for Feminella and Dennis working for the advertising agency S. H. Benson. There followed in quick succession three children: Nicholas in 1960, Stuart in 1962, and Louise in 1964. 

Dennis moved from advertising into product management and marketing for Nabisco, Cerebos, and Rank Hovis McDougall, where he was General Manager for Sales and Marketing. During this time, he managed the Shredded Wheat and Scott’s Porage Oats brands and introduced Ritz biscuits, Mary Baker cake mixes, and several new breakfast cereals for which his children were the guinea pigs, with samples in mysterious top-secret plain white boxes. His responsibilities also included Sharwood’s, in which role he cornered the world ginger market.

The family moved to Harpenden in Hertfordshire in 1962, and then to Petersham in south-west London in September 1965. In 1967, the family bought a little cottage in Seaton, Devon, where they spent most summers and many weekends. Dennis bought his first boat, a Skipper, which he also sailed on the Thames, removing the mast and sails to pass under each bridge.

In 1971, Dennis was headhunted to be Marketing Director and then Managing Director (or CEO) of Crown Paints and Wallcoverings, based in Darwen in Lancashire. The family moved to a 17th-century farmhouse in the tiny hamlet of Bryning-with-Kellamurgh, near Lytham St. Anne’s. Dennis set up Crown’s international operations and was often abroad setting up partnerships and export deals.

In 1974 Dennis and his family emigrated to Toronto, where he held a senior position with Reed Decorative Products (North America) and ran Reed National Drapery. Finding Toronto far too cold, in those days before global warming, they returned in 1977, with Dennis becoming CEO at Harrison Beacon in Birmingham. Dennis also bought his first house in Salcombe in Devon, where he and the family would stay for the next forty years.

At Harrison’s, Dennis created Mr. Plumber, the first line of DIY plumbing products. He decided to buy it out and set up as a separate company in Tamworth, Staffordshire – a family business. Averil did the accounts and Nicholas was the travelling salesman. 

In 1988 Dennis bought a larger house in Salcombe, The Eyrie, close to the beach with a view of the sea, with the intention of retiring there. Dennis closed Mr. Plumber and he and Averil moved to Salcombe in 1990. Retirement plans were put on hold, however: Dennis had explored some part-time consulting opportunities through the InterExec agency, who instead hired him as Regional Director. Averil, not to be outdone, became a professional headhunter. In 1992, Dennis became a partner and co-owner in the Praxis Interim Management Agency, which was sold to Ernst and Young in 1999.

Meanwhile, Dennis had been writing. First, a business book on Interim Management, published by Butterworth Heinemann, and then several novels, including one, Carew, that dramatized the plight of a Plymouth family during the English Civil War and was described by the Bristol Evening Post as “the pick of the summer’s reading”. Dennis founded Aveton Books to publish the novels, and soon the house was overflowing with boxes of books, packing envelopes, address labels, and so on. Some of the novels can still be bought on Amazon.

Meanwhile, Dennis enjoyed travelling around Europe and visiting his children in California; sailing his Silver Streak dinghy in Salcombe Estuary, playing chess for Kingsbridge Chess Club, and playing bridge with a large group of friends in Salcombe. He started the Salcombe Investment Club and became chairman of the South Hams Conservative Association. Rather optimistically, he planted a vineyard in his back garden, although it never quite produced enough grapes to make wine.

Averil passed away in 2011. In 2016, while on holiday in Cyprus, Dennis met Sally Butcher and on April 29th, 2017, they were married in Salisbury. They moved to Christchurch and so began a new, happy phase in Dennis’s life. Sadly, it was cut short by prostate cancer, and Dennis passed away on December 7th, 2022. He is survived by his wife Sally, his brother Michael, his three children (Stuart of Berkeley, California; Nicholas of Westhope, Herefordshire; and Louise of Mill Valley, California) and six grandchildren.

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