Sitting with her 65-year-old husband Eugene on a loveseat in their Washington, DC home, Beverly Russell recalled how they first met after a soccer game at Armstrong High School. She was a cheerleader, and he was a linebacker and defensive back.
“We started talking, and I guess we’ve been talking since,” she said.
For more than six decades, the Russell’s have lived in a house on East Capitol Street that had been his grandparents’ home. Down the street is the Episcopal Church of Atonement, where they married in 1956, and a few blocks from their home is St. Luke’s Catholic Church, where they became Catholics there. has been around for several decades and have been active members ever since. They will be among more than 250 local Catholic couples celebrating milestone birthdays in 2021 who will be prayed for the Archdiocese of Washington’s annual Jubilee Mass on June 27 at St. Matthew the Apostle Cathedral.
Father Joséphite Cornelius Kelechi Ejiogu, pastor of St. Luke Catholic Church, commended the Russell for their example of love and faith.
“Sometimes we look so high for the stars when they are shining low above us. In Pa Eugene and Ma Beverly we see stars whose lights shine so brightly for us during times of darkness, ”the priest said. “At a time when some young people are starting to wonder about the vocation of marriage, the Russells are becoming a portrait for them to look at on a daily basis.
The Russell’s marriage was marked by a life of blessings and difficult times. They have four daughters – Terita Willis; Tajuana Russell, who died in 2001; Tonita Russell-Thomas, who died in 2012; and Tamara Russell. Eugene and Beverly Russell also have 10 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren.
Eugene Russell, 83, from Washington, worked for the US Department of Agriculture as an office manager for the US Forest Service for more than two decades, and over the years he also worked as a clerk for the US Postal Service. Then, for about 23 years, he worked as a sexton in charge of the maintenance of St. Luke’s Church, dealing with plumbing, electrical and other matters. Most of the time he walked to church work.
“It (St. Luke’s) was like a second home for me,” he said.
Beverly Russell, 81, also from Washington, taught art for many years at Chamberlain Vocational High School, where some of her students went on to become art teachers, graphic designers and owners of their own businesses. She also taught art to younger students for over a decade at the now closed St. Benedict the Moor School in Washington.
“I enjoyed the sharing of talent and creativity,” said Beverly Russell, of her career as an art teacher.
Her happiest memories over the years have been watching her daughters graduate from high school and college.
“Each of them had their own personality. They were good students, ”said Beverly Russell, recalling how she graduated in studio art from Federal City College the same year their eldest daughter graduated from high school.
Eugene Russell recalled how much fun they had taking their daughters to the beach on weekends, where family members enjoyed swimming and crabbing.
The most difficult things the Russell had to endure was the death of their daughters Tajuana, who died of pancreatic cancer; and Tonita, who had bone cancer. Beverly Russell said they went through these heartbreaking experiences “through prayer, family support and church support.”
“I was the Prefect of Sodality (in St. Luke’s) at the time, and I had a lot of support from my Sodality sisters,” she said.
A recent challenge they have faced has been being separated from family members and other church members during the pandemic. They stayed connected to their faith by watching the Masses live and the televised Sunday Mass.
As their neighborhood has changed over the years – with shops and businesses leaving the area and RFK Stadium blocking their view of the United States Capitol that they could once see from their front steps – a constant for them. Russell was their Catholic faith.
“It (my gosh) has helped me in every corner,” Beverly Russell said. “It helped me overcome the loss of my parents. It helped me a lot with the (deaths) of the girls… It helped me come to terms with the death and loss of loved ones and friends.
Praying the rosary and reciting her Josephite prayers and prayers to Saint Jude continue to help her, she said.
Ironically, one thing that first attracted them to St. Luke was the parish bingo games.
“St. Luke offered the bingo. My girlfriends and I would go. The priest said: “Why don’t you come to mass one day? ”Recalls Beverly Russell, noting how she accepted the priest’s invitation to come to mass and help with the youth programs there, and she became a Catholic around 1973. She is a long-time member of the Sodality there and was a Mass reader for about two decades.
“It (the church) kept me busy, kept me active, thinking and acting on behalf of others,” said Beverly Russell.
Before becoming a Catholic, Eugene Russell also went to St. Luke for bingo, and after being asked to cut grass there, he became the church’s longtime sexton. He eventually followed his wife by becoming Catholic, and he joined the Holy Name Society at St. Luke Parish.
“We have been very active,” he said. “Anything that needed to be done to help the priests, (to help) the church, we would.”
Describing what his faith means to him, Eugene Russell said, “I found Jesus in the Catholic Church… Whenever I had illnesses I prayed to him, (and) he came for me. .
Last October, he feared he had been infected with the coronavirus, but it turned out that he had a blood clot on his lungs. He said his prayers to Jesus also helped him overcome his feelings of depression after learning that people he knew had died during the pandemic.
“He (Jesus) was there for me all the time,” said Eugene Russell. “(Now I) wake up and thank the Lord for another day, (thinking) this day will be better than yesterday.”
The pandemic kept the couple from going on one of their favorite retirement outings, heading to Atlantic City casinos. They explained that their typical routine was to pray the Rosary in the car for safe trips on the round trip. Eugene Russell joked that they also prayed that they wouldn’t be broke when they got home, so they could bring in some money for St. Luke’s.
Asked about their advice for a long and happy marriage, Beverly Russell replied, “You can’t just walk out the door when you have a disagreement. You have to learn to work things out together, to solve your problems.
And she had another piece of advice, “Stay in prayer.
Eugene Russell said his advice was, “Love. We love ourselves. We never hold a grudge. Any argument or disagreement we always resolve, most of the time at that time.
Sitting next to his wife on the loveseat in their home’s living room, he added, “We are grateful to always be here, to come downstairs and see our great-grandchildren running around the house.”