Compassion was the hallmark of Judge Edward Russell, 91


Edward E. Russell, 91, of Chestnut Hill, a retired judge in Philadelphia's Family Court and Court of Common Pleas, and a former adjunct professor at Temple University who served for years as a parliamentarian charged with keeping order among his fellow members of the judiciary, died Sept. 16 of a stroke at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden. 

Judge Russell became a judge in 1988 and heard thousands of cases in Philadelphia Family Court and the Court of Common Pleas until his retirement in 2010. He also served as parliamentarian for the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges for 23 years and the Board of Judges of the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania for 19 years.

On a personal note, I often had a chance to chat with Judge Russell since his wife, the late Ruth Rummler Russell (1934-2021), was an editor at the Chestnut Hill Local for 30 years and my boss for 20 years. “I always wanted to be a judge,” Judge Russell once told me in his Highland Avenue home, “because you can make a real difference in people's lives with compassion and understanding. Some cases are heartbreaking, especially those involving children, but I look forward to going to work every day.”

Like Ruth, Judge Russell was always pleasant, down-to-earth and comfortable with every element of society. I occasionally kidded him about being a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, and he was quick to point out that he was a moderate Republican, comparing his views to those of former Republican Pennsylvania Governors William Scranton, Raymond Shafer (who named Russell city controller in 1967) and Tom Ridge.

The judge's son, Robert J. Russell, CEO of Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, told us last week, “My father ruled often on issues in Family Court that involved abused and neglected children, and he told us that he was most proud that his often gut-wrenching decisions were never reversed upon final appeal. He really always wanted to be a judge, and it's rare that you get an opportunity to fulfill your career desire. He was completely devoted to the law.

“Although my dad had four kids and many other interests, he somehow found the time to stay involved in our lives. He was a Boy Scout leader, for example, at Grace Lutheran Church in Mt. Airy. And he took my brother and me to karate lessons, one-and-a-half hours, twice a week. He made sure that even with his very busy schedule, he always attended the important events. He and my mom would come to some of my own son's basketball and soccer games.”

Judge Russell's wife, Ruth, was the editor-in-chief of both the Olney High School newspaper and the Temple University newspaper as a teenager. While working at the  Temple News, Ruth met Judge Russell when she interviewed him for the newspaper. “I was involved in Temple at the time,” Judge Russell said years later. “We met when she interviewed me over lunch one day. I was impressed with her. We were married in 1955.”

The Russells lived in Mt. Airy and moved to Chestnut Hill in the 1960s. After the move, they were invited to a party at the home of J. Pennington Straus, a prominent Hill resident and member of the board of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, which owns the Local. In retelling the story for the Chestnut Hill Local’s 50th anniversary in 2008, Ruth said Straus invited her to stop by the Local, figuring her journalism background would be useful. She began covering Jenks Elementary School as a freelancer, but when then-editor Ellen Wells’ assistant left, Wells asked Russell to take her place. And when Wells left the Local in 1972, Russell was named associate editor.

Judge Russell later served as a special assistant attorney general for Pennsylvania and as a member of the State Supreme Court's Minor Court Civil Procedure Rules Committee. As an adjunct professor at Temple University for many years, Judge Russell wrote articles for several professional publications. He appeared on TV feature programs for local stations and was a member of the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of TV and Radio Artists. He also performed with the Theater Wing of the Philadelphia Bar Association, the Temple University Chorus, the Academy Chorale and Wissahickon Woods Opera Theatre.

Judge Russell earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in rhetoric from Temple University and a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also held an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Moore College of Art, where he served as chairman of the board of trustees.

Judge Russell is survived by three children: Ann J. Russell, Robert J. Russell and Mary E. Russell-Poulain as well as four grandchildren: Stephen and Christopher Russell and David and Madeliene Poulain. He was predeceased by his wife, Ruth, and son, Edward E. Russell, Jr.

Len Lear can be reached at