KENNEBUNKPORT – Their love for each other was so strong that it carried them through the tragic death of their first child and through several illnesses that included breast cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

When Elizabeth “Betty” Russell died Saturday at age 75 from complications of dementia, she left behind a loving husband who still talks about their special romantic song, and a loving family that includes four children and five grandchildren.

The Russells’ first child, Margaret A. Russell, died in 1969 in a swimming pool accident. She was 9 years old.

The couple, who met on a blind date in 1958, were married for more than 51 years. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in September 2008 at the Webhannet Golf Club.

Robert Russell said he had to be persistent in the beginning stages of their romance. Whenever he called her to ask her out on a second date, she kept saying she was busy. He finally convinced her to attend a play.

“We both liked the play, and we liked each other’s company,” he said.

The Russells, who lived for many years in the Washington, D.C., area, were married on Nov. 29, 1958.

In the early 1960s, Robert Russell, who worked as a textbook salesman, was on the road in Philadelphia. That night in his hotel room, he watched Barbra Streisand’s first television special, where she performed a song he had never heard: “Why Did I Choose You?”

He called his wife afterward, knowing that she would be watching the same show — Mrs. Russell was a Streisand fan. Robert Russell said he and his wife loved the song.

“It has been our anthem ever since,” he said.

In 1987, the couple moved to the Goose Rocks Beach section of Kennebunkport, where Mrs. Russell worked at Dock Square Clothiers for more than 10 years.

She was in charge of managing the store’s clothing inventory, a job that allowed her to pursue her second passion — clothing.

Robert Russell said his wife leaves four closets full of clothes, one for every season, and “that’s not counting the sweaters.”

“I adored my wife,” he said. “I would buy anything for her. I was as much responsible for the closets as she was.”

She never walked Goose Rocks Beach without saying, “I love this place. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” her husband said.

She became an avid gardener. “We had a beautiful garden,” he said.

But after receiving a stem cell transplant in 2002, her doctors told her that she could not work in her garden.

Robert Russell offered to help, though he had never done any gardening.

“I was putting pansies or something into a container, and I was mumbling to myself, something about the words on my tombstone saying, ‘He loved baseball, he loved jazz, but he didn’t love gardening.’

Though his wife was a two-time cancer survivor, Robert Russell said, the stem cell transplant led to complications of dementia, the cause of her death. She died Saturday at the Monarch Center in Saco.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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