Bishop John William Russell served various local churches and as a district superintendent before his election as bishop in 1980. In 1988, he became the first episcopal leader of the newly formed Central Texas Conference. Russell died Sept. 2.
Bishop John William Russell passed away Friday Sept. 2, 2022, at the Reunion Court of the Woodlands, Texas. He was 96. Bishop Russell served as the Central Texas Conference’s inaugural episcopal leader when the South Central Jurisdiction split the Dallas/Ft. Worth Episcopal area and formed the Central Texas Conference in 1988 – an assignment from which he retired in 1992 – after serving as bishop of combined Dallas/Ft. Worth episcopal area from 1980-88.
“While I unfortunately never had the pleasure to get to know Bishop Russell personally, his reputation as an affirming, pastoral and solidly United Methodist leader during a time of transition for the conference is well known,” said Bishop Ruben Saenz, resident bishop of the Central Texas Conference. “Whenever the Cabinet is together at the Conference Service Center, we meet in the Russell Cabinet Room.
Bishop Russell was born June 19, 1926, in Abilene, Texas, to Rev. Virgel Russell, a Methodist minister, and his wife Louise Hayden Russell. The family eventually moved to Oklahoma, and while attending high school in Anadarko, Oklahoma, John met Mary Jean Garrett. Following his high school graduation in 1944, and a tour in the Army serving in Japan in WWII, John and Mary Jean wed on Dec. 26, 1947. It was the beginning of a life of dedication and service to God and the Methodist Church that would span a period of more than forty years.
John and Mary Jean were considered a perfect team in ministry from the time John received his first appointment to the First Methodist Church in Wagoner, Oklahoma in 1952 just after receiving his Bachelor of Divinity Degree from Perkins School of Theology at SMU. Thereafter, a succession of appointments and moves would take he and Mary Jean to Methodist churches in Vinita, Oklahoma, the Village Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, and finally to the First United Methodist Church in Enid, Oklahoma, which they considered their dream appointment. The UMC had other ideas and in 1975 John was appointed District Superintendent of the Tulsa District, Oklahoma Annual Conference, and subsequently, in 1976, to the post of Senior Pastor to the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa, where he served until 1980 and his election as a Bishop of the United Methodist Church.
John and Mary Jean were married for 71 years, ending only upon Mary Jean’s death the day after their anniversary in 2018. The union was blessed with three children: Mary Margaret, Deborah Ann and John Garrett.
“Bishop Russell was a very gentle, loving and pastoral person, who brought a keen sense of humor to any situation,” continued Tim. “You knew you were in for a chuckle when he was around because he’d always get this ‘look’ on his face just before he’d crack a joke. He and Mary Jean were wonderful members of First Fort Worth and our conference. Our prayers are with his family during this time.”
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, at the First United Methodist Church located at 800 W. 5th St., Fort Worth, Texas. Burial will follow in the Oakridge Section of the Greenwood Memorial Park Cemetery located at 3100 White Settlement Road, Fort Worth, Texas.
In lieu of flowers, the family would prefer donations be given to the First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth, or the charity of your choice, in memory of John William Russell.