Russell Smith: [Heath 1946–1953]

Apart from family bereavements, sadness and tragedy did not feature large in the life of Russell Smith. Essentially he was a man of robust constitution and approach; he was always “hail fellow well met;” he related easily and well to the world. He was a popular man.

Tragedy did however strike deeply into his life on a fateful day in September 1987 when the Heath Old Boys’ walking group was decimated in the accident on the Lune Bridge/M6 as that group was making its way in the north bound adverse carriage way when the trailer of a large articulated lorry collided broadside with the group’s transport with a distressing number of fatalities and others injured.

At a stroke Russell lost a number of his contemporaries who had been his close and enduring friends from, in many cases, the age of 11. He suffered severe injuries, including posttraumatic stress. There is no doubt that this incident and its far-reaching effects had a profound effect upon the remainder of his life. There were other major formative factors in his life, not the least his marriage in 1960 to Anne and the making of their family — David and Richard, and in his latter years, most joyfully, as the family broadened with his four dearly loved grandchildren.

He was educated at Lee Mount Junior School, Halifax and passed the 11+ to start attendance at Heath Grammar School — a place for which from 1946 he developed a deep loyalty and no small amount of affection. Heath Grammar School enabled him to give expression to his considerable ability with modern foreign languages and it was there that he started to play the game, which he enjoyed playing, supporting, administering and just watching until the end — Rugby Union Football.

It was at Heath Grammar School where he developed friendships, some of which were so drastically ended in September 1987. He continued to serve on the Heath Old Boys Association, having been its Secretary for many years.

Heath RUFC now flourishes but in the early 1950s it could no longer fulfil its fixtures and it lapsed until Russell, with others of like mind, set about reconstituting the Club, playing its first revived fixture against the school at Kensington Road, Halifax in September 1957. Thereafter, he was a stalwart member helping to build the new clubhouse, captaining the side, serving as Chairman and ultimately assuming the honour of President of the Club. His enthusiasm for the game and his Club was unabated to the end.

His ashes will be scattered at the Club's ground at West Vale.

His family’s move, when he was 14, represents a significant social change as they took up residence in Skircoat Green, Halifax and with that move came involvement with All Saints Church and the tennis/youth club. It was in that context that he met his wife to be and he was able more easily to foster his friendships with his contemporaries living in that area.

Anne was always a committed and enthusiastic member of All Saints Church, Dudwell, but Russell remained an agnostic, despite her exhortations, for many years. As their relationship strengthened, she hoped that he would assume her faith in equal measure but he remained unconvinced.

That remained the position until the testing days of his father’s illness with cancer of the oesophagus. At the time Russell was working for Empire Stores, Bradford while his father was in Bradford Royal Infirmary. He would take time to enjoy the peace in Bradford Cathedral and he fully acknowledged that it was there where he accepted the strength of the Christian word and thereafter he grew in his faith; in later years of his life he practised that as a full, enthusiastic, evangelical almost, member of Coley Church where he had no compunction about speaking about his faith and commitment and readily singing each week in the choir as well as editing the parish magazine.

He was a founder member of a Bible study group which met most weeks and where he, with others, was prepared to wrangle about his faith to believers and non-believers alike. Anne’s trust was thereby justified and together they enjoyed to the full the Church and committed Christian life.

Prior to his death he had written extensively about his beliefs and his wishes and there is no doubt that his faith continued strong to the end.

He was born the elder son of Sidney, a butcher in Halifax Borough Market, and his mother — Mary who, in the custom of the day, kept house and looked after the three men folk in her family. The house was a warm and loving place. At the age of five he was charged, at the outbreak of war and his father serving in the army, with looking after his mother and new baby brother. Thereafter, the two lads were given all possible support in their education and their respective sporting, particularly rugby, careers.

Russell did well at Heath Grammar School. His forté was French and German. He became a skilful rugby player and had a Yorkshire Schoolboy County Trial playing in the same school team as J.P. Horrocks-Taylor (England and British Lions).

It was a matter of some concern, particularly to his mother, that Russell decided that he would like an army career and was prepared, on being called up for his National Service, to sign on as a regular soldier. After the initial training his talents at, in particular, German were recognised and he was drafted into the Intelligence Corps at Uckfield in Sussex before being sent to Klagenfurt, Austria where he served until it was decided that the British forces should leave that country.

His army ambitions were not fulfilled and after his National Service he became initially a trainee manager at Marks and Spencer but that potentially successful career was doomed because too often his duties clashed on a Saturday with his overwhelming wish to play rugby at the weekends.

He thus progressed from M & S to a finance house representative with some rising success, but then his entrepreneurial leanings prevailed and he and Anne decided to sample self-employment by taking the Post Office appointment at Lee Mount, Halifax in the early 1960s. It was a busy shop and post office and they prospered there until once more he was tempted into employment in the commercial world as a manager with Empire Stores, Bradford, again enjoying a successful and popular career. His constant good cheer and easy ability to relate to others commended him to his next employers, the NSPCC, for whom he served as a District Manager for a good number of years — not, fortunately, as a child protection officer but as a person well able to organise the money raising efforts in his particular and varying areas of operation. It was whilst he was thus employed that the tragic accident described above befell him and others.

That event effectively brought his working life to an end and until his death he still experienced the residual effects of the accident, but in no way did those difficulties impact upon his living “the full life.”

His love for his wife and family, Coley Church, Heath RUFC, Yorkshire County Cricket and his choral pursuits — throughout with Coley Church Choir, previously with Halifax Choral Society and latterly with the Overgate Hospice Choir all continued unimpaired.

Grayham P Smith