Eric Russell, Dublin’s Associate Director of Alumni & Development, was one of seven children growing up in Philadelphia in the 1960s and 1970s. Philadelphia was a tough place in those days, particularly for a minority family. In contrast to this environment, Eric grew up in a family deeply interested in education, music and culture. Home was like a little “academy” where books, music and art were taught by his parents. Bedtime was announced in the Russell household with classical or baroque music.
Its hardly surprising that this was the case as Eric’s parents, John and Barbara Russell, were remarkable people. John graduated from UPenn in 1954 with a degree in Chemistry and Barbara was a concert pianist who doubled later on as a stay at home mom raising seven children. After graduation, John worked for the US Department of Agriculture. One of the important things he learned at Penn however was to pursue his passion. In 1968, John decided to enter the Lauritz Melchior Heldentenor Foundation competition for finding and developing heldentenors (one way of describing that rare breed, the heldentenor or “heroic tenor,” a man with the stamina and power to soar above an orchestra for many hours). He won the competition and launched on a new career as an opera singer.
Valuing education above all other things, John and Barbara sought out a school that would educate their children in the ways that they desired. Eric’s oldest brother Keith, who Eric considers among the brightest people he has ever met, was named a Community Scholar by the Germantown Friends School (GFS) and became the first of the Russell kids to attend. Eventually, all seven of the Russell clan graduated from GFS - and the family received significant and continuing financial support from the school that was crucial in order to allow that to happen.
Despite being the third oldest, Eric was the last to enter GFS. A shy student, he didn’t want to leave the large public high school that he attended, anxious that he would be separated from his friends. Every day on his ride to school, his father would badger him on how well his siblings were doing at GFS and how happy they were. Finally, in a moment of either weakness or surrender, Eric agreed to apply for his junior year.
In Eric’s words, GFS “changed my life”. In an experience that Eric views as similar to Dublin, for the first time teachers really cared deeply about Eric. They told him that he mattered and that he was part of a community that loved each other. They learned about him and they told him through words and actions that they liked him. For the first time, he recognized what a community larger than his family meant. He was asked to try new things - when he arrived he could not “hit the broadside of as barn” with a baseball - a year later he was a starting pitcher. The two short years redefined who he was and launched him to Brown University.
Half a lifetime later, Eric joined Dublin in 2015. Even though his Germantown Friends School experience was short, Eric considers himself at his core an independent school person. “I have lived independent schools. My siblings, my ex-wife, my kids have all experienced the benefit in their educations. It’s what I believe in.”
Moreover, for Eric it is deeply personal. Without the benefactors that funded his family at GFS, Eric and his family’s lives would have been less rich and less vibrant. He knows, at the deepest level, that the generosity of others has a profound and continuing impact on people. In fact, the impact extends beyond the family circle - Eric's oldest son is an Emergency Room doctor saving lives in Oakland California, and his youngest is an award winning teacher in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Houston, Texas.
Today, Eric concentrates his giving to only three places: the American Breast Cancer Foundation (he lost his mom to breast cancer); Germantown Friends School; and, Dublin School. In his view, giving to GFS and Dublin is the single best way for him to help other parents and children achieve their hopes and dreams.