Remembering chemistry professor K.E. (Ken) Russell

Lectureship in honour of professor emeritus holds first sessions after his passing

K.E. Russell conducting a demonstration for his students during one of his chemistry classes.
Image supplied by: Supplied by Celia Russell and Ralph Whitney
K.E. Russell conducting a demonstration for his students during one of his chemistry classes.

When beloved Queen’s chemistry professor K.E. Russell joined Queen’s in 1954, the university was small — there were only about 2,300 students. Over the next few decades, he watched the university grow, and contributed to the school’s development both within the Chemistry department and beyond.

The Russell Lectureship was created to celebrate and honour Dr. Russell’s contributions to the chemistry department. Beginning in 2014, the lectureship has been gathering funds to bring distinguished researchers to speak to the department.

Russell at work in his office in Gordon Hall annex.

The very first installment of the series was launched at Queen’s a mere five days after the passing of its namesake.

Russell passed away just before the inaugural lecture, which took place on April 15. According to the colleagues whose lives he impacted at the University, Russell leaves a legacy beyond the lectureship — of dedication, selflessness, and teaching excellence. 

Joining Queen’s chemistry department in 1954, Russell remained active in the department long after his retirement in 1990.

Russell was born in England, and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, graduating in 1948. He began teaching as an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University in 1948, becoming an assistant lecturer at Manchester in 1950, and then a fellow at Princeton in 1952.

Russell was highly successful in his research in polymer chemistry, and continued to publish his findings for a decade after his retirement.

In 1981, Russell established a partnership with DuPont Canada in purchasing the University’s first high-field nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer.

Aside from his academic successes, Russell made several philanthropic contributions to Queen’s, ranging from the creation of the William Patrick Doolan Teaching Award to donations for the creation of the Isabel Bader Centre for Performing Arts.

However, Russell’s colleagues, friends, and family members all agree that his greatest contributions went far beyond research and philanthropy.

“[Ken] was a wonderful mentor to a lot of people in the department,” said Sue Blake, assistant dean (studies) to the Faculty of Arts and Science. Blake was a student and colleague of Russell’s for many years, and attests to Russell’s tremendous capacity for kindness and patience.

Russell also maintained a reputation for being an excellent teacher. His children and colleagues recall that in his early years of teaching, he would be provided with photographic profiles of each of his students.

He used these photos to memorize and expertly recall the names of all 100+ students in his first year chemistry class.

Russell in another demonstration for his chemisty class. 

According to his colleague in the Department, Ralph Whitney, Russell was also well known for what the chemistry department has traditionally referred to as “whiz-bang” lecture demonstrations, in which he entertained students with loud and theatrical explosions.

According to his daughters Judy and Celia, a particularly exuberant demonstration once left him with temporary hearing troubles.

In 1993, Russell gave his final demonstration for the 100th anniversary celebration of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

Russell’s work went even further still, as his colleagues emphasize that he always felt it was his duty to take on administrative responsibilities for the department and the university.

This included serving as a member of the Queen’s Senate, as chair of the Arts and Science Faculty Board, and as acting department head and department chair of Graduate Studies, according to his daughter Celia.

He was also a member and chair of the University Concerts Committee, and even worked as a proofreader for the Queen’s Gazette, alongside Celia.

Russell during his daughter Judy’s graduation in 1995. 

“The reason that people in the chemistry department were so very fond of him was that he was a good citizen of the department in many ways,” said Ralph Whitney.

As the lectureship series kicks off in his memory, Whitney is glad to see Russell’s legacy last.

“Ken gave back to the department in many ways,” said Whitney, “and he can [continue to] do so for many years to come with this Lectureship.”


Chemistry, Obituary, professor

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