Colonel Russell Fiske

Published 10:55 am Tuesday, May 8, 2012

It is said that “When a great man dies, for years the light he leaves behind him illuminates the paths of others.” Such a light shines in our world today.

Colonel Russell Fiske, Marine Corps fighter pilot, athlete, farmer, philosopher, teacher, good friend, and ever-so-beloved husband and father died on Sunday, May 6, 2012. He was 92.

Russell Francis Fiske was born on April 15, 1920 in Chicago, Illinois, into a family where the men were star athletes and the women were bright fashion designers. His father, Maximilian Patrick Fiske, a champion baseball pitcher, much beloved in the Chicago Roseland-Pullman area, died when Russell was only 8 years old, leaving his wonderful wife Mae and his four boys Max Jr., Bob, Harold, and Russell.

As a young boy growing up in big city Chicago during the time of the infamous Al Capone and John Dillinger, Russell had three unusual wishes: to play championship handball, to fly a plane, and to have a farm. All of these wishes came true. He followed his dreams. He was a three time National Handball Champion and a highly decorated fighter pilot who served in the Pacific theater of World War II. He traveled far and wide, an adventurer to the core. And when he married his sweetheart in eastern North Carolina, he not only won the heart of his beloved, he became a farmer.

Russell began playing handball at a local YMCA in the south side of Chicago and won the State Singles Championship at the young age of 17. He went on to win many YMCA and AAU competitions and countless titles throughout the country in singles and in doubles, often sponsored by, and at times partnered with his mentor and friend, Bob Kendler. Bob Kendler later founded the United States Handball Association in 1951. As three-time National Handball Champion, Russell was inducted into the Roseland-Pullman Sports Hall of Fame for handball in 1976.

Russell joined the Naval Aviation Cadets in August of 1942 and was commissioned in the US Marine Corps in 1944 as Second Lieutenant. A dedicated and honored fighter pilot and Marine, he served in the occupation of China and Japan during World War II, the Korean War, and then the Reserve Squadron based in Norfolk, Va. Many lives were saved by his daring and committed military service. As Commanding Officer of the best squadron in the Reserves, he received the Marine Air Reserve Trophy in 1964, the highest attainment of efficiency and combat readiness in the United States. Also, while in the Reserves, Russell commanded the first squadron to complete a refueling in the air on an American coast to coast flight. He retired, Full Colonel, in 1980.

In 1942, while stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina, Russell met Janice Daniels Fairless, a beautiful young student at East Carolina Teachers College in Greenville. He “fell in love with her as soon as he saw her” and that never changed for a moment. They were married in her home church of Christian Harbor on July 27, 1945. Russell and Janice made their home in Colerain; Janice teaching second grade at Colerain Elementary School and Russell farming the family farm with Janice’s father, Cecil Fairless. They had one daughter, Jan Russell, who teaches and travels internationally, having inherited that gene from her adventurous father.

A vibrant and well known member of his community, Russell wore many hats and served in many ways. He was President of the Lions Club, Chairman of the Board of Deacons of Colerain Baptist Church, Worshipful Master of the Masonic Lodge, and member of the Sudan Shrine Temple of New Bern, just to name a few. He loved to hunt and to fish and was well known for his fine sense of humor which could make the heart lighter in any circumstance.

Russell was a very special man; a man of great courage and great generosity; a man who loved to sing and to laugh; a man who deeply loved his country and his family and friends. As he departs us now, he says the words he so loved to say in his later years with that twinkle in his eyes, “Be good, Take care, and God Bless.”

The long and illustrious life of Colonel Russell Fiske will be honored in a graveside service at Hillcrest Cemetery, Colerain, on Thursday,  May10 at 4:00 p.m.

Memorial donations can be made to Colerain Baptist Church or Colerain Rescue Squad.

Garrett-Jones Funeral Home of Ahoskie is serving the Fiske family.  Friends and family may send online condolences to