More than 110 people crowded into The Gathering Place Dec. 5 to celebrate the life of Russell Williams. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BRUNSWICK — As she prepared Dec. 5 for a celebration of life in honor of Russell Williams, Mary Connolly turned to a corner of her office that was filled with a hodgepodge of items the man had picked up along the way, in anticipation of furnishing the apartment he expected to have someday.

A window screen, a puzzle he had helped put together that was laminated for displaying, a pillow he’d found attractive.

“He was getting ready for the next step of his life,” said Connolly, executive director of The Gathering Place.

Russell Williams, a homeless man who impacted many lives around Brunswick, was found dead outdoors in a sleeping bag Nov. 23. Contributed

But Williams never got to take that step. Although he had recently received a housing voucher, he had just 60 days to find housing, and he could not find an apartment in time. With supply unable to keep up with demand, Williams’ record made it that much tougher to find housing, Connolly said.

Weeks after being reported missing, he was found dead Nov. 23 in his sleeping bag by a set of train tracks, a likely victim of a medical issue and the cold temperatures, Connolly told The Times Record earlier this month.

He had been a fixture at The Gathering Place, a day shelter whose patrons were like an extended family to him. The love he’d engendered was evidenced by the more than 110 people who gathered at the Tenney Way center Dec. 5 to tell stories of a man who could try one’s patience at times, but whose exuberance was infectious.

“Russell could be exasperating; someone had to say it,” Rev. George Hardy said with a smile. “We remember the love that we felt as well. … We will never forget Russell.”

His loud, looming presence transcended his shorter stature, and he had a nickname for everyone, Connolly recalled. Hers was “Mary, Mary, quite contrary.”

Phil Studwell’s was “Dr. Phil,” a nod to the TV psychiatrist.

“When you volunteer at The Gathering Place, it’s amazing; your friendship network expands, and Russell was my friend,” said Studwell, who helps out there weekly.

“He’d look at me, and he’d go, ‘Dr. Phil, only two today,'” Studwell said with a deepened, authoritative voice, drawing laughs from the audience. “He only needed two hours with me today.”

“Russell could push every button I had,” said Jo-An Jacobus, a Gathering Place volunteer. “Every time he’d see me he’d say, ‘HI, JO!’ And I would have to respond, ‘HI, RUSSELL!'”

“Because that’s how it was,” she said. “I miss him deeply. There’s a hole in my heart that’s Russell-sized. There’s a hole in The Gathering Place that is Russell-sized.”

Phil Studwell, a Gathering Place volunteer, recalled how Russell Williams, a lover of nicknaming people, dubbed him “Dr. Phil.” Alex Lear / The Forecaster

A U.S. Navy veteran who later worked at Eastland Shoe in Freeport and Worumbo Mill in Lisbon Falls, Williams “was most at peace in the quiet of nature, whether it was while fishing or relaxing in solitude,” his obituary reads.

With the happy memories, though, came occasional pangs of grief during the service. The bitterness spawned from the question of why Williams had to go the way he did.

“I think back, that Russell died alone beside that railroad track,” Rev. Chick Carroll said. “That hugs at my heart; that tugs at your heart. One should not have to die that way.”

“Russell’s demons made him crazy, and sometimes his demons made me crazy, too,” Carroll added, inspiring an “amen” from the audience. “But when we think about Russell, let’s hang onto the good things: his smile, his songs.”

Even those times he pushed those buttons.

“He was just being Russell,” Carroll said. “Just being Russell.”

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