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Obituary: Professor Ken Russell of Robert Gordon University dies aged 65

Professor Ken Russell.

Ken Russell was a man known for his business acumen – but also for his warmth and kindness.

A professor at Robert Gordon University, an elder in Banchory West Church and a devoted husband and brother, the impact of his sudden death remains a deep loss to all who knew and loved him.

“He hadn’t been ill. It was a complete shock,” said Jane Russell, Ken’s wife.

“We found out after that his heart was scarred and enlarged.

“If you knew him you’d know how tragically fitting that is for Ken.

“He had such a big heart; he’s someone who always thought of others.”

Early days in Ireland

Born in a Belfast hospital on November 13, 1955, Ken was raised in Northern Ireland.

Coming from a strong family unit, he was encouraged to be all he could be.

He was close to his parents Daisy and Derek, his sister Pamela and brothers Ian and Brian.

He became a Queen’s Scout and keen rugby player, chosen to be part of Northern Ireland’s youth team.

But his time was divided between sport and other outdoor pursuits.

Ken loved being outside and enjoyed walking in the Mountains of Mourne near to his Lisburn home.

Taking dad’s advice

But growing up in Ireland wasn’t all idyllic, especially during the troubles.

It was his father’s hope that his sons would leave Northern Ireland for a war-free future.

Taking the advice of his dad – a physics master – Ken applied to study at Newcastle University where he graduated with a PhD in Engineering.

He remained a Magpie from then on – still following the progress – or not  – of Newcastle United.

A fortuitous meeting

Ken met Jane Allen in 1991.

Born in Kent then moving to Somerset where her dad was in the Navy, she went to Lancaster University before working abroad for eight years.

On her return she enrolled at Southampton University.

And fresh from a rival MBA course she took a job at Bristol Business School.

“I met Ken on my first day there.

Professor Ken Russell.

“I was struck by his kindness and how warm and attentive he was.

“He was especially interested in my past Masters experience.

“Little did I know he ran the MBA course there and was probably more than a little bit of forensic analysis of the courses going on.”

Finding love

Not wasting any time Ken invited Jane to a Scalextric party.

“It actually sounded really fun but I couldn’t go. Which I’m thankful for because we then met for a walk to Westonbirt Arboretum instead.

“It was autumn and the colours were just beautiful.”

Ken and Jane Russell, pictured at a retirement party in Banchory.

The pair got engaged at Christmastime 2002 and married the following September in Melrose, in the Borders.

They honeymooned on the Isle of Mull where Ken had spent many happy family holidays.

They also visited St Michael’s Chapel on Iona where the Bible was open to the book of 1 Corinthians chapter 13.

It was the same reading they’d had at their wedding.

Speaking of unconditional love, Jane also chose it to be read at Ken’s funeral.

Banchory and Robert Gordon University

As a married couple – both with a deep Christian faith – they journeyed though a season of deep loss and grief.

The result of this was a life-changing decision to move to the north of Scotland.

Ken Russell, when he was Depute Principal of Academic Development, University of Highlands and Islands.

“There are things that you go through, that you’d never wish to experience… but with hindsight we see a gift within that time, because it led us here,” said Jane.

After a time in Bridge of Don while Ken worked with Robert Gordon University as Associate Dean of the Business School, the couple eventually settled in Banchory.

Joining Banchory West Church – where Ken would later become and elder – provided a new family for them, both so far away from home.

Career legacy

Ken had always wanted to be a professor before he was fifty, and he achieved his dream.

After a short stint also working with the University of the Highlands and Islands as Depute Principal – Academic Development, he returned to RGU as visiting professor.

He was currently working alongside the Scottish Government on a course to help Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire businesses grow back after Covid.

“I think the most comforting thing for me right now is knowing that Ken passed away as someone who was happy and excited for what lay ahead.

“He was really proud of the project he was part of and I know that will be part of his legacy.”

Cooking in Covid

During Covid lockdowns Ken reignited his love of cooking, working his way through the Hairy Bikers’ recipe book.

It was a passion he’d had from childhood, having inherited a love and cooking from his mother.

Jane’s favourite photo of Ken, pictured on holiday in Oban.

The night before his death he and Jane were entertaining friends over great food, in preparation for a dinner party event they had planned.

Then sadly, on the morning of October 3 Jane awoke to realise Ken had passed away in his sleep.

Loving life

“His last night here on earth was with friends laughing and smiling.

“He was excitedly talking about the future.

“I was met with such compassion and empathy from everyone, from the ambulance crew to police; to our neighbours and church community.

“It was a shock. One I don’t know that I’ve learned to adjust to yet – but we shared a faith.

Banchory West Church elder, Ken Russell.

“I believe he’s in a much better place. And thanks to the post-mortem and the medics, I know he didn’t suffer.”

Robin Watson, CEO from the Wood Group, said: ‘I can honestly say that Ken was a real pleasure to work.

“He added a great deal to the university, its students, and its broader group of interested parties across the years.

“He was a real presence who made any interaction thoroughly enjoyable as well as worthwhile.”

Bristol Business School noted Ken’s integrity and humility.

You can read the family’s announcement here.