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Alice M. Russell (1930-2017)

Skills with numbers, people led to position

Alice M. Russell, 86, whose precision with numbers and skill at relating to people — clients and coworkers — led her to become the first female Toledo district manager of a leading black-owned insurance company, died Dec. 8 in ProMedica Ebeid Hospice Residence, Sylvania.

She had congestive heart failure, said her daughter the Rev. Rose Russell.

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Russell

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Ms. Russell retired in 1992 from United Insurance Co.

She devoted most of her career to the former Supreme Life Insurance Co. of America, the first Northern black-owned insurance company at its founding in 1919, according to an online article by the Chicago Historical Society. Prominent alumni included John H. Johnson, the founder of Ebony and Jet magazines, who worked for Supreme Life as a high school graduate and decades later was its board chairman.

Ms. Russell became a Supreme Life agent in 1967.

“When I came I was a homemaker,” she told The Blade in 1987. “I didn’t come just to remain at the entry-level position, but to work my way up.”

She wasn’t aggressive, and she wasn’t a pushover, Pastor Russell said.

“My mom was a woman of quiet dignity and strength,” Pastor Russell said. “She was determined in her own way.”

Ms. Russell had a penchant for numbers and a clear understanding of insurance. At the start, she collected premiums from clients at their homes throughout northwest Ohio.

“Everything was exact. She was a very precise woman,” said daughter Connie L. Jones, who worked with her in the Toledo office. “I think that’s why I majored in business. I saw that in my mom, and I respected that so much.

“She was a lover of people. She could relate to everyone,” Mrs. Jones said. “Everyone was on her level: white, black, rich, poor.”

In the office, she did not allow problems to mushroom.

“We act like a big family in this area,” Ms. Russel told The Blade. “We don’t have arguments, we have discussions.”

In the late 1970s, Ms. Russell was promoted to district manager, the first woman in that role since the Toledo office opened in the 1930s. She supervised six agents, including in Sandusky and Lima, Ohio. Under her watch the district was chosen to host the Chicago-based firm’s annual managers’ meeting.

She attended what was then Davis Business College and the University of Toledo’s former community and technical college.

She played an active role in the churches where she was a member. The last 15 years, she was a member of Payne Memorial AME Church in Springfield Township, where she had been church school superintendent.

“The life my mother lived demonstrated her foundation, and it was exemplary of Christian principles,” said Pastor Russell, Payne Memorial’s current pastor.

Born Dec. 10, 1930, in Marianna, Pa., to Willia and Archie Garrison, she was a 1949 graduate of Washington High School, in Washington, Pa., and attended Penn Commercial College there.

She was formerly married to Claude Russell, Jr.

Surviving are her daughters, the Rev. Rose Russell, who was a Blade staff writer and associate editor, and Connie L. Jones; son, Minister Michael Russell; brother, Paul Garrison; sisters, Bishop Gloria Garrison and Ruth McGruder; eight grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Warren AME Church, with a family hour at 10 a.m. The Dale-Riggs Funeral Home handled arrangements.

Contact Mark Zaborney at mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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