Former Wilton first selectman, town historian Bob Russell dies

WILTON — Historian, former first selectman and longtime resident Bob Russell has died, leaving behind a legacy and impact on the town that will remain for years.

Russell died on June 18. He was 86.

“I think the beauty of what Bob was able to do was that he was able to build relationships with so many people,” said Interim Historical Society Director Nick Foster. “And you do that by being somebody who can be relied upon.”

Foster said Russell was someone that he and many others relied upon, but he was also “somebody that truly understood what Wilton meant” to its many residents and respected its centuries of history.

Russell’s own history in Wilton started when he was an engineer with IBM. There, he met Carol and the two would choose Wilton as their new home. They lived in Meadow Ridge, a senior living center in Redding, at the time of his death after spending more than four decades in Wilton — the town where Foster said Russell built so many lasting connections.

If some of Wilton’s younger generation aren’t too familiar with Russell, they may become well acquainted with his name when researching anything related to the town’s history.

Russell read countless documents and kept copious notes when researching and compiling the long, storied history of the town before publishing “Wilton, Connecticut: Three Centuries of People, Places and Progress” with the Wilton Historical Society. He deemed the book a “labor of love” in an essay published in the Bulletin in 2021.

And if anyone is looking to do some research of their own, they’ll likely look to acquire historical records and documents from the archive room at the Wilton Library, the very room which dons the name of Russell and his wife, Carol, who supervised the room for more than 30 years. In 2018, the couple was honored for its longtime support of the library.

Russell didn’t just record Wilton’s lenghty history, he chose to become a part of it as well. He spent six years holding the title of first selectman from 1993 to 1999 after constantly being asked by town residents. He also served on numerous other town boards, including the Board of Finance.

For years, he sat on the board of the historical society and, even recently, would volunteer to give walking tours of the grounds, give lectures or lead a program.

“Bob was an ongoing gift to the town and to Wilton Historical — a generous sharer of his depth of knowledge of Wilton and our history,” said Wilton’s Ceci Maher, a candidate for the 26th Senatorial District. “He will be missed.”

Maher recanted a story of seeing the Russells just one month ago at the Wilton Historical's celebration of Bob Faesy.

Wilton’s Toni Boucher, former state senator and current candidate, said she has “been lucky to call Bob and his wife Carol my friends” and that all her love is with Carol during this extremely difficult time.

“As we mourn this painful loss, we must also remember and honor all that Bob stood for,” Boucher said. When Russell served as first selectman in Wilton, Boucher was serving on the Board of Selectman, noting that she “witnessed firsthand how hard Bob worked to make our town a great place” and to support each and every resident.

“I will personally miss his guidance and counsel so much. He was always there whenever needed, sharing his wisdom and perspective. He was and will always be a local treasure, active in making our community a better place for the future, and preserving our history and past,” Boucher said. “Bob is forever a piece of our town, and his life must be celebrated for all that he has done for Wilton.”

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice addressed Russell’s death at a recent Board of Selectman meeting.

“It’s a big loss for Wilton to lose Bob,” Vanderslice said. While she acknowledged his six years as the first selectman, she noted that his impact and service spanned far wider than that. “He was active right up to the moment.”

Ashley Kineon, of the Friends of Ambler Farm, said she was just emailing Russell last week and was sad to hear of his death, before calling him the “father of Ambler Farm.”

Along with his widow Carol, Bob leaves his children James and Jennifer, as well as three grandchildren: Thomas, John and Ven.