Jan Scott-Wood says her cousin, Ronald Sinclair Russell, was out in the bush foraging a couple of weeks ago and told her he felt “absolutely great.”
“I live on Twelve Mile, and he walked through the woods looking for wild leeks. He had his knife in his pocket to collect them. And he came up and had a cup of tea with us. We just sat and had a real nice visit, because I’d been away all winter in Florida. He said ‘I feel really good’,” Scott-Wood said on May 26 as she and cousin, Wendy Connelly, helped to clean out Russell’s apartment.
The two said Russell got an infection, which contributed to his passing May 23.
Following a chat outside the Wedgewood Marina, the two emerge from the flat overlooking Twelve Mile Lake with images of a young Russell, looking dashing in a black and white photograph, and an older Russell, posing at one of the Brazilian balls he decorated.
“He was a very attractive young man,” says Scott-Wood.
“And he had a great sense of humour,” chimes in Connelly.
Tributes have been flooding in this week for Russell, a character-filled individual who touched the lives of many in Haliburton County.
Russell grew up on the family farm in Carnarvon, which he would go on to buy from his parents and name “The Springs.” He had two brothers, Neil and Colin, and a sister, Barbara.
The cousins said since his father was named Sinclair, he was just Ron or Ronnie in his younger days. “When he became a designer, he liked the posh sounding name,” Scott-Wood says with a chuckle.
Connelly grew up nearby and recalled how Ron played with his cousins, brothers and other boys in Carnarvon and went on to Haliburton Highlands Secondary School. Scott-Wood lived in Toronto so didn’t see him as much. They recalled how he moved to Toronto to finish high school and then embarked on a high-flying, around-the-world career, before coming home to Carnarvon and Minden.
They said he worked with many top designers in Toronto, New York, California and all over Europe, rubbing elbows with celebrities. He decorated many storefronts and helped to plan large events such as the Brazilian ball and the Griffin awards in Toronto. Several years ago, he decorated the vice president’s office at the White House. More recently, he decorated the streets of Minden at Christmas and Thanksgiving. He was an organizer of the Festival of Trees as well as Pride Week in Minden.
Scott-Wood comments on the sewing machine and bolts of material in the flat and his “beautiful sewing.”
Because he travelled so much, the cousins said they really became re-acquainted with him in his later years.
“He was such an easy guy to talk to,” says Scott-Wood, saying they knew “the flamboyant guy that loved tartans … and he loved heritage and his memory was amazing.”
Connelly laments, “we should have written it all down, because he knew all of our history and everything and he would tell you, ‘so and so’s related to so and so’ and ‘they’re related to you and …,” she trails off with a laugh.
Scott-Wood adds, “his wit and charm will be missed by all of his family and friends far and wide.”
Friend Mary McCrae nominated Russell for a municipal award in 2017. She said, “having worked with Sinclair during our career years and more recently on Minden volunteer projects, I can attest first hand to his ability, dedication and professionalism. There was no one quite like him. Sinclair has made an amazing contribution to our community, helping to make it an exciting shopping and event destination for locals and visitors. Anyone who has worked with him would agree.”
The Stanhope Museum said local history had lost another champion.
“Related to almost everyone via the Russell/Nesbitt families, he had a story about almost everyone, and rattled off names and dates like they were yesterday,” they said on their Facebook page.
David Rankin of Minden Pride honoured Russell, who was Pride’s co-founder and past chair, in a Facebook post.
“Almost every message of condolence that we have received has described Sinc as ‘a character’,” Rankin said. “And that he was. While we will mourn, his is a life that should be celebrated. He was a smalltown boy from Haliburton who ventured into the City of Toronto at a young age, and then ventured further into the world making his mark before returning home. Big personality, big-bellied, colourful in language and attire.”
Rankin remembered ‘Sinc’ for his side-splittingly funny story-telling, and said many would remember trips into town with Russell, after picking him up on Twelve Mile Lake.
“Sinc was part of the group that took the very politically correct, positive and forward moving action of establishing Minden Pride. He will be missed; his absence will be felt; the world was a more interesting place because he was here. We hope that somewhere over the rainbow you find that land that you heard of … safe travels.”