Retired Loudon County General Sessions Judge William Henry “Bill” Russell, 75, died Thursday at Parkwest Medical Center of complications related to a recent heart attack and stroke.
Known around the county simply as “Judge Bill,” Mr. Russell had a long career in law, politics and community service, including serving as county judge, assistant district attorney and assistant to Gov. Winfield Dunn.
“He had quite a career,” said former county judge Harvey Sproul, who practiced law with Russell in the 1960s. “He was very intelligent and had a magnetic personality,” Sproul said.
Mr. Russell was born in Keen Mountain Va., the son of a Methodist minister with roots in Loudon County. He enlisted in the Marine Corps, serving overseas before returning to finish his bachelor’s degree at East Tennessee State University. He and his wife, Mary, moved to Loudon and he graduated from the University of Tennessee law school.
Sproul said he was running for judge in Loudon County in 1966 when he first met Russell, who joined his practice in 1968. Mr. Russell showed an interest in supporting the campaign of Winfield Dunn.
According to his nephew, Russell Johnson, 9th District Judicial District Attorney General, candidate Dunn was a frequent visitor and overnight guest at Mr. Russell’s home when he was campaigning in East Tennessee.
Following Dunn’s election in 1971 as the state’s first Republican governor in 50 years, Mr. Russell went to Nashville as head of the patronage committee for the eastern half of Tennessee, served as assistant commissioner of conservation and then administrative assistant to then-Gov. Dunn.
In 1974, Mr. Russell returned to Loudon County and was elected county judge, a position which at that time had executive responsibilities, and served in that capacity until 1982. He practiced law during the 1980s until he went to the district attorney general’s office as assistant district attorney in 1990. He served as assistant DA until being elected General Sessions Court judge in 1998 and again in 2006.
In recent years, Mr. Russell devoted much of his time to public service including working to preserve the Philadelphia Community Park, sponsoring chili cook-offs to support the Philadelphia Fire Department and the Philadelphia United Methodist Church. He also helped sponsor a Labor Day project for Loudon County residents to paint the new Loudon Bridge.
Mr. Russell was also an active political mentor and helped in the campaigns of many local political figures such as his nephew, Johnson, Loudon Circuit Court Clerk Lisa Purdy Niles, as well as the recent campaigns of county elected representatives.
“He maintained a strong local political influence from his days in Nashville throughout and after his career as a judge and was always known as “Judge Bill” by those that knew him best,” Johnson said.