Interview with a Quaker
~ Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now
Below you’ll find a self-interview that I once did for a college history course. It would be wonderful to read real interviews of other Old Chatham members. Hmm. Wonder if I should do that?
1. Tell me your full name and when and where you were born.
My full name is Richard Stephen Russell. I was born in Austin, Texas on
November 20, 1946.
2. Tell me about your parents and grandparents.
All my grandparents were raised in farming families, mostly from Alabama, Arkansas, and Missouri. They came to work in the oil fields, first in Oklahoma and North Texas, later in the Permian Basin of West Texas. They eventually settled in
and around Monahans, Texas, not far from Midland-Odessa.
Because of the Great Depression, my paternal grandmother moved to Los Angeles, part of the massive migration seeking a better life in California. During World War II my maternal grandmother joined the millions of women who entered the labor force for the first time. She served as a clerk at Pyote Army Airfield, now closed, once the home of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb.
My maternal grandfather managed Gulf Oil’s gasoline refinery at Wickett, Texas. My other granddad drilled for oil when he wasn’t drinking whiskey. Of course, both men were too old to fight in World War II.
My father did not want to be a foot soldier in the War. He avoided the draft by enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps. His most dangerous assignment was “flying the hump,” a phrase used by Allied pilots who flew supplies over the Himalaya Mountains to China, where Chiang Kai-Shek was fighting Japanese invaders. After a short stint in civilian life as a reservist, he was called back to active duty during the Berlin Airlift and the Korean War. He did not, however, see
combat. Instead, he taught instrument flight courses, later serving two years as an exchange officer with the Royal Air Force in Scotland. When his own father died in 1954, he left the U.S. Air Force and took over the “old man’s” struggling oil field business. With his salesman’s acumen and a total lack of scruples, Dad mademoney with Russell Tool & Supply Co.
My mother was a homemaker, high school English teacher, and director of a rehab program for juvenile offenders. She died in July of 2021 due to Alzheimer’s Disease.
3. What about your brothers and sisters?
My brother, after a rebellious teenage period, became an IT tech at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is an accomplished bass guitarist and especially likes rock music of the 70’s. He took care of our mother in her declining years.
My sister, after serving in the U.S. Navy, became a nurse and nurse educator. Unfortunately, her professional career was cut short by a debilitating, treatment-resistant depression. Fortunately, she has recently been restored to full health by ketamine infusions every five or six weeks.
4. Tell me about your friends.
My best friend in high school was Carl Cochran. After graduation from U.T. Austin, Carl got Dan Rather’s old job as a TV news reporter in Houston. He later realized his dream of moving to San Francisco where he could live a gay lifestyle
without fear of reprisal. Regretfully, Carl contracted AIDS and died in the 80’s.
My roommate and best friend in college, Jack Burns, married a young lady who was an ardent feminist. Apparently, I was too much of a “male chauvinist” at the time. I rarely saw Jack after his wife decided I was persona non grata.
My present best friend is also my wife. Zoila was a student of mine when I taught English as a Second Language at Odessa College. She was born in Peru, has dark skin, and speaks English with an accent. People often assume that Zoila is from Mexico and married me to become a U.S. citizen—neither of which is true.
5. What was your most memorable trip?
Undoubtedly it was the year I taught English in Medellín, Colombia during the epoch of Pablo Escobar. Somebody—maybe Escobar, maybe leftist guerillas—had blown up my school just before I arrived. It was hard to teach while the school was being rebuilt around me. The subtleties of English pronunciation were frequently drowned out by power drills and jack hammers. Colombia is a country full of kind, generous people; but perhaps 250,000 Colombians have died in a civil war that began in the 1960’s and only recently ended.
6. What is your greatest achievement?
My daughter, Gabriela. Of course, Gabby owes just as much (if not more) to her mother. Gabby has a B.A. in Dramatic Arts and is presently an assistant manager at a Starbuck’s store. She makes almost as much money as I did in my last full-time teaching job.
I should also mention that I have two dachshund children, Annie and Bentley. I’ve trained Annie to steal socks and hold them for ransom, i.e., a treat. Bentley simply barks when he wants to be petted.
7. Why did you convert from Catholicism to Quakerism?
Being Catholic was causing me too much cognitive dissonance. There are too many fundamental Catholic beliefs that I don’t agree with. I don’t believe that the bread and wine at Communion literally become Christ’s body and blood. I don’t believe in a literal Resurrection. While I do believe that Eternal Life is real, I don’t subscribe to the dogmatic Catholic system of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory—a system that requires confession of any “mortal sin” if one is to avoid being sent to Hell. Not attending Mass is supposedly a mortal sin. Thus, if I don’t go to church one Sunday and die before confessing this sin, my soul will end up in Hell.
On the other hand, liberal Quakers, as one Friend put it, “can believe anything they want.” Who wouldn’t want freedom of belief? With such freedom, I can structure the spiritual Universe in whatever way appeals to me. (Of course, the spiritual universe may not be what I find appealing!)
8. What are the most important things you’ve learned during your life?
Well, number three is, “Never trust anyone over thirty.” Number two is, “Make love, not war.” Number one is, “Be here now!”
~ Richard Russell
Donald Newman Lathrop
3/18/2023 08:13:16 pm
I don't see how I can fit all the categories in here.
Richard S Russell
3/22/2023 04:03:24 am
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