Articles Russell Slack 1967–2013


This page contains 14 reader comments. Click here to view (latest Thu 21/03/13 11:33).

On the evening of Tuesday 26th February 2013, Russell Slack passed away at the age of 45. He had lost his short, yet fierce battle with liver cancer, and Yorkshire lost one of its finest sons. As I sit here at my desk, looking over the mountains of southwest China, the shockwave is still rocking my life. How can this happen, and why, are both futile questions for now, but questions that in time, we can live with, reflect upon and take strength from.

I had the great fortune to know Russ for over 20 years, from when we first met birding at Wheldrake Ings in the spring of 1992. Over those years, he and I shared more adventures and crazy times than I could write about in a series of books, and find it impossible to believe that a dozen years after writing the best man's speech for his wedding, I'm writing his obituary.

Russ was the only son of Sue and Ricky, and the boy they nurtured had a passion for two things: statistics and birding. The majority of his professional life was spent working in academia, at both York and Sheffield Universities, but he also spent a good chunk of the 2000s working for BirdGuides, where his passion, experience and unique, meticulous work helped launch many of their flagship products, notably the Bird News Extra service (which Russ initially ran almost single-handed, with Phil Palmer) and the monumental reference works BWPi and BBi (British Birds interactive).

When someone like Russ passes away, especially suddenly and at a terribly young age, it is up to those who knew him and loved him to remember him for who he was and the huge mark he left on this world. His two books — Rare and Scarce Birds of Yorkshire and Rare Birds: Where and When, Volume 1 — are monumental in their analysis, information, passion and readability. The birding world has lost an encyclopaedic knowledge — one of the good guys, whose motives and actions were always just, and had the birds' wellbeing at their core.

But of course, it is not just the birding world who has lost one of its best; Russell has left behind his wife Linda, and their two young daughters, India and Ruby. Surely it is the memory of his soft voice, wry wit and his kind, sincere eyes that will live on in their hearts.

And what of us who are left behind — how can we move on knowing that such things can happen to a young, healthy, non-smoking outdoor person?

Well, it's not how you die, it's how you live. That someone like me can sit here and write these words about the greatest of men, with tears flooding down my face — that is the measure of the man. His life is unblemished with selfish bitterness, regrets or failure; instead it is a book well written and a life well lived by a man who put justice and sincerity into everything he did. He loved his wife, daughters and family with a passion, and always did the right thing by them and others.

If we can take anything from such a tragedy, it's that all of us can be better people than we are. Our partners and families deserve our sincerity and attention; our colleagues and friends should receive honesty and integrity. We should embrace our opportunities and live life for what it is, a short and precious gift. By the time death takes us, it is too late to reflect and regret — time should be an open book in front of us, blank pages to be filled with fulfilment, love, passion and experience. There are no more pages in Russ's book, but what has been left for us is a fabulous read and an inspiration. Remember him and honour him by living lives that are worth reading — savour the breaths that he cannot. He deserves this in his memory.

Safe travels dude...

In lieu of a fee for this article and in memory of our former colleague, BirdGuides has made a donation to Macmillan Cancer Support, the choice of Russ's family. If any readers would like to add their own donations as a memorial to Russ, please see www.macmillan.org.uk/donate. Thank you.

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The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

hide section Reader comments (14)

Lovely words for a lovely man. Rest in peace Russ, you will be missed. Jono Leadley
   Jonathan Leadley, 04/03/13 12:58Report inappropriate post Report 
Great words and sentiment Alister, Russ will always be remembered not only by those of us lucky to have known him personally but by those whose lives he touched through the great work he did. Now he can fly with the birds he loved so much.
   Andrew Huyton, 04/03/13 14:39Report inappropriate post Report 
I had the priviledge and undoubted pleasure of getting to know Russ whilst birding the Whitby area over several years, I have many happy memories of sharing some great times in the field with someone so obviously totally commited to birds and birding. Russ was always ready to share his knowledge and enthusiasm with everyone who shared his passion and countless people have benefitted from this, its so hard to believe this guy has gone. How we in the birding world will cope with his loss is one thing but imagine how this must be for his lovely family, my heart goes out to them.
   Nick Carter, 04/03/13 15:01Report inappropriate post Report 
Thank you Alister for a moving tribute to a top man.
   John Jackson, 04/03/13 17:54Report inappropriate post Report 
In the 1990's I spent many happy hours birdwatching with Russ and my husband John on their Whitby patch. As a birdwatcher of limited experience I could have been aptly described as a 'dude' by Russ (and John) but no, he always treated me as an equal member of their little team, and made me feel that my input was valuable if only for my sandwich making/baking skills! As a birdwatcher's wife I know only too well the difficulties of juggling family commitments with that birdwatcher's obsession to be out there at the right time, in the right conditions, looking for scarce rarities. Later Russ married and had his own family, and I loved and admired the way he always put his family first, even on those perfect days when easterlies blew over the east coast in autumn. A very special birdwatcher and a dearly loved friend, we will miss him so much. Beverley Beaumont
   John Beaumont, 05/03/13 09:07Report inappropriate post Report 
Beautifully written wise words by somebody who knew Russ well the tribute on the LDV blog is another fitting piece http://ldvnnr.blogspot.co.uk/. Never met him but having read these two tributes I wish I had.
   Richard Barnes, 05/03/13 10:14Report inappropriate post Report 
I travelled with Russ for 90 days back in 1989/90. We flew to Delhi, dealt with culture shock, Sibe Cranes, the taj, Nianatal and an overland bus trip to Nepal. We walked the Jomosom trek, langtang trek, birded Chitwan and Kosi barage. I love the guy. We had some good times in Manc and Sheffield too. His wedding was a real highlight too. How we have laughed - how brightly he burned.
   Adam Davison, 05/03/13 12:59Report inappropriate post Report 
I bumped into Russell many times in and around LDV but, for a long time, I didn't know who he was: therefore I got to know him for what he was - a man who wore his extensive knowledge lightly, who assumed I knew as much as he, never patronising. My enduring memory of him will be the beautiful sunny morning when we met in Millington Dale, in the year of the Rough-legged Buzzards. We passed the time of day then he said he had to go in order to slave over a hot computer. I said that I could think of worse things but, on a morning such as that, not many. That made him laugh and he left with, I think, a lighter heart. Certainly a lighter heart than mine when I read of his death. My thoughts are with his family.
   Pat Crofton, 07/03/13 10:08Report inappropriate post Report 
very sad, I met Russell several times , nice guy god bless
   Dean Eades, 07/03/13 10:33Report inappropriate post Report 
A true gent and very trustworthy, a great loss to birding. I was very fortunate to work with Russ on Vol 1 & 2 of Rare Birds Where and When.
   Ray Scally, 07/03/13 13:43Report inappropriate post Report 
I only met Russell a couple of times but as mentioned in Alister's eloguent tribute I knew I had met 'one of the good guys'. His family will surely have some wonderful memories of a life well lived; my condolences and thoughts go out to them.
   Nigel Hudson, 07/03/13 16:43Report inappropriate post Report 
A supporter of the No Airport At Cliffe campaign, from very early days thru to victory, Russel was instrumental in alerting the birdwatching community and beyond, of a serious threat to our natural, national heritage. No ask was too big, always dependable he made sure that the clarion call was heard, that the acorn became an oak. Forever grateful he was on our side, the conservation cause has lost a true friend, he will be greatly missed..... God Bless and Thank You.
   Perry Haines, 08/03/13 01:11Report inappropriate post Report 
So sad...one of birdings "good guys" God bless his soul.
   John McLoughlin, 12/03/13 11:11Report inappropriate post Report 
A very moving article !! Never met the guy but i see we share the same birth year,a love of birds and the outdoors,and two beautiful daughters ! Certainly a wake up call for me.So sad RIP russel .
   Darren shepherd, 21/03/13 11:33Report inappropriate post Report 

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