Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

12/23/2012 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (

Goodbye, my friend

It wasn't merely that he had a Southerner's gift for story telling, Walter had the novelist's eye and memory for describing encounters with people and events, and by focusing on the tell tale detail of an off-hand comment, or gesture, or the omission of something appropriate to an occasion, would uncover another chapter of the human comedy.

Walter Russell, my best friend, was honored as a harness race judge.

Walter Russell, my best friend, was honored as a harness race judge.


By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (

12/23/2012 (1 year ago)

Published in Marriage & Family

Keywords: walter russell, harness racing, friendship,

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - At 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, my best friend died.  Walter Russell passed away at the Emory University Hospice in Atlanta, GA, next to the campus library where I met him forty years ago.  Walter was not a Catholic, not a conservative, not a Republican, not a "straight" man, yet he was my best friend, and now he is gone.  

When I got the call this morning I was with my son Chip shopping for a suit at JoS. A. Banks; the suit he will now wear to the funeral in Stevenson, AL, where Walter was born and raised, to a family already distinguished in the world of harness racing.  His father, Sanders Russell, who I met before he died, was inducted into the Harness Race Hall of Fame as a trainer and a driver, as Walter himself would be a few years ago as a nationally-respected racing judge.  

At 86, Walter had lived a rich and full life, a pianist trained at Peabody and Juilliard, we had spent countless evenings at his grand piano with me singing show tunes in my strained baritone while he improvised beautifully at my side.  Walter was also a true "man of letters" with graduate degrees from Vanderbilt and Emory, which led him to teach several years at Georgia College in Milledgeville, GA, where he became close friends with Flannery O'Connor and her mother Regina.  

His stories of conversations on the front porch of "Andalusia" served as my introduction to the world of O'Connor. As a graduate student at Emory, I was still a decade away from my conversion to Catholicism. Walter also introduced me to Evelyn Waugh who had been the subject of his master's thesis at Vanderbilt. But it was his dissertation topic, T.S. Elliot and Igor Stravinsky, that he told me about the first day we met that started a conversation about music, literature, film, culture, religion, and politics that would stretch across the decades. Perhaps "conversation" is too strong a word, because Walter was a story teller without equal in my experience -- when he told a long story I would marvel at the perfection of the sentences, the moments of emphasis using his voice, his eyes, his mischievous smile, or his deep, and always youthful, laughter.  

It wasn't merely that he had a Southerner's gift for story telling, Walter had the novelist's eye and memory for describing encounters with people and events, and by focusing on the tell tale detail of an off-hand comment, or gesture, or the omission of something appropriate to an occasion, would uncover another chapter of the human comedy. Walter could be unsparing in his narrative estimation of his friends and acquaintances, but he was unfailingly gracious and forgiving to all of us. His grasp of fallen human nature far exceeded my own in the first decade of our friendship, and it took me many years to realize how prescient Walter had been about many things, including me.    

Flannery O'Connor, Evelyn Waugh, and T.S. Elliot, yet my friend Walter never professed any specific belief in a religious creed. At the same time, he always supported, even encouraged my journey toward the Catholic Church. Yes, there were many times of good-humored banter about our differences, but Walter always found good things to say about the people and causes I embraced, from John Paul II to George W. Bush.   

There were years when, employed far away from Atlanta that I didn't see or hear much of Walter, yet his face was never far from my mind.  Whenever we met, usually in Atlanta when I visited on business, it was as if our last conversation had been the night before.  He loved my family, and he became very close to several of my friends to whom I introduced him.  Walter was that person described by C.S. Lewis in his chapter on friendship from The Four Loves whose presence intensified the friendship of everyone around him.  Perhaps that is why it felt like such a body blow when the news came this morning.

Walter had a contagious zest for savoring each day, making every meeting with him, whether for breakfast, lunch, a dinner party, coffee, or ice cream (he had a child's appetite for sweets!), memorable.  The same zest was manifest when I visited him at the harness race track and sat next to him as he watched through his binoculars as the horses and drivers flew towards the finish line.  The respect that I had for him, and his other friends from academia, was evident among his colleagues in the world of harness racing.  His judgment and integrity, a sense of common decency and fairness, were integral to the respect that he earned over his lifetime in the sport.  

As a friend, Walter never let me down: He was always interested in the "latest news," always robustly congratulated my achievements, and during times of trial and disappointment, always lightened my burden with his understanding and the forgiveness of his laughter. No matter where I was in life, to Walter I had the same value as a person, a friend, worthy of his welcome and attention, of being a part of his day, of his life. I know when the ache is gone it will be replaced by the pure gratitude of God having put such a man as Walter Russell in my path and for allowing me to know and love him all these years.

Goodbye, my friend.


Deal W. Hudson is president of the Pennsylvania Catholics Network and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for August 2014
That refugees, forced by violence to abandon their homes, may find a generous welcome and the protection of their rights.
Oceania: That Christians in Oceania may joyfully announce the faith to all the people of that region.


More Marriage & Family

Remember the Alamo - Texas' abortion law now challenged in court Watch

Image of Abortion rights activists protest on August 4, 2014, outside a U.S. federal court in Austin, Texas, where a hearing started for a case by the Center for Reproductive Rights against a new set of restrictions on abortion clinics in the state that go into effect in September

By Lisa Anderson, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Abortion rights groups challenged Texas' sweeping anti-abortion law in federal court on Monday, as a federal judge in Alabama ruled that the state's similar restrictions on abortion were unconstitutional. NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In its second challenge ... continue reading

Indian toddler with severe water on the brain survives surgery Watch

Image of Surgeons carried out a series of operations to reduce the size of Roona's head. Sent home after surgery, her parents were warned she had little chance of survival.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

With a freakish head 37 inches in circumference, a three-year-old Indian girl has underwent surgery to reduce her deformity. Arduous hours of surgery later, she's smiling for the first time with a more normal-sized head. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - ... continue reading

European Court of Human Rights: Europe CAN NOT be forced to recognize same-sex 'marriages'

Image of Marriage IS between a Man and a Woman ONLY.

By Adelaide Mena

Is the disordered homosexual lifestyle destroying our great American culture? Strasbourg, France, (CNA/EWTN News) - The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the refusal to recognize same-sex "marriages" does not violate the European Convention on Human ... continue reading

Are You a Ready or an Unready Catholic?

Image of

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

There are many Catholics who are "unready" Catholics, that is, operating under ill advice or bad counsel.  They have adopted the counsel of sophists, satanists, or doubt-sowers, and have departed as a result from the teachings of the Church.  Their ... continue reading

Andrew M. Greenwell on Same-Sex 'Marriage': Framing the Issue Right Watch

Image of

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

The first step for a Catholic to recognize his obligation to oppose same-sex "marriage," if he does not see it or comprehend it, is to rid himself of the flawed moral heuristic (a moral rule of thumb or short cut) some ideologue has chosen and which may be blinding him ... continue reading

Pacing a New Online Relationship

Image of Pacing an online relationship is different for each couple.

By Catholic Match

Every couple that meets on CatholicMatch moves at their own pace. For some, it's important to move from online connection to a face-to-face date as soon as realistically possible. For others, it's important to let things grow gradually. Matt and Katie fell into the ... continue reading

The example of the Holy Family: Do you follow it?

Image of The Holy Family is the ultimate example for us to follow in our daily lives. We need a daily reminder of this.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

There is no community as sacred as the family. When we reflect on the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph, we see modeled for us how to be as a member of our own family. Whether we're a father, a mother, or a child, the Holy Family shows us how to be. It is ... continue reading

Michael Proposed With A Video

Image of Michael and Laura.

By Catholic Match

Laura was tired of the dating scene or at the very least the relationship scene. By the time the 24-year-old from Maryland got to CatholicMatch, all she wanted was to go on some dates with nice guys, but to keep it casual, just have dinner, and maybe hear that she was ... continue reading

Children: The Crowning Glory of Marriage Watch

Image of

By Deacon F. K. Bartels

The American cultural lens of late has warped the way in which children are viewed to the point that they are seen not as gifts but as burdens. Many people no longer recognize children for who they are: precious jewels of indescribable beauty and worth whose growth, ... continue reading

How One Couple Met, Fell in Love, and Met the Pope

Image of Deanna and Michael with Pope Francis.

By Catholic Match

Deanna, 24, and Michael, 28, had never dated before they meet each other on CatholicMatch. Michael had been discerning the priesthood for four years, and it seems God had placed a bubble around lovely Deann a saving her just for Michael. They were married on October 5, ... continue reading

All Marriage & Family News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Corinthians 2:10-16
10 to us, though, God has given revelation through ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13, 13-14
8 Yahweh is tenderness and pity, slow to anger, full ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 4:31-37
31 He went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 2nd, 2014 Image

St. Ingrid of Sweden
September 2: Born in Skänninge, Sweden, in the 13th century, St. Ingrid lived ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook

Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter