Outspoken Roswell resident is a complicated warrior, mayor says

“Remember there is a world bigger than the one you live in,” she told council members. “I have a pretty big worldview of things and I probably know more diverse cultures than anyone in this room and I challenge them.”

The longtime resident has served on several citizen committees for the city over the years and is considered a community activist with a persistence that was often unwelcome in the past, Wilson and others said.

“I’m just a doer,” Russell said.

Roswell’s new Mobile Visitors Center was Russell’s idea, Councilwoman Christine Hall said. Russell’s idea was to meet people where they are by adding a mobile unit as an extension to the brick and mortar location on Atlanta Street, Hall said, but the city permanently closed the physical office.

After being turned down in trying to get City Hall lit up in different holiday colors throughout the year, Russell convinced officials in February to illuminate the building with yellow and blue lights to show solidarity with Ukraine, Hall said.

Russell recommended the last two veterans honored by City Council and didn’t accept “no” from city staff when requesting a police escort for them to City Hall. Edward G. Bernard, a nearly 100-year-old US Navy veteran of World War II, and Carol Brandau Sundling, who was a flight nurse for the US Air Force and served in Vietnam, separately received proclamations for their service on different dates in March.

“When the administration said, ‘No, (to a police escort) it can’t be done,’ she went to the police chief…,” Hall said. Both veterans had a police escort to the City Hall ceremonies.

Russell has pressed every city administration in Roswell since WL “Pug” Mabry, who served as mayor from 1967 to 1997.

“I can remember going to City Council meetings and saying ‘I would really like to have bicycle lanes … so I could ride to the square,’ Russell said. “I was told I should put my bike in the car and take it to the Roswell High School track.”

Russell said she experienced culture shock when she moved from the San Francisco Bay area in 1973 with her former husband, a Delta pilot, and infant daughter. She had worked as a civilian flight attendant for the military airlift command at Travis Air Force Base, she said.

When Russell arrived in Roswell, Holcomb Bridge Road was a dirt road and a part of unincorporated Fulton County, she said.

“It was whiplash for me moving to the south,” Russell said. “The town I grew up in was 100,000 people of different ethnicities and I kind of like that.”

Russell and her husband divorced less than 10 years later but she still lives in the 1960s home they moved into and raised her two daughters there. She operated a travel agency in the neighborhood on Atlanta Street for 20 years.

The city is now multicultural in its population, growing from about 5,400 people in 1970 to 92,800 in 2020.

“I don’t have a Ph.D. but I have one in living and I reach out to everyone in my community,” Russell told City Council Monday during her public comment.

Russell has said she doesn’t believe the extent of construction planned for the now $18.5 million Oxbo Road project or the $50 million Historic Gateway project is necessary.

Council members said they don’t agree but they’re listening.

“If you listen, 85% of what she says is spot on,” Wilson said. “She’s just a warrior, to her massive credit. And she will bust you in the chops. I think this town has a great love for her but in many ways she still feels like an outsider.”

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