Anna Russell, the petite powerhouse who oiled the engine of government as Houston’s city secretary for nine mayors during a nearly 70-year career defined by her sharp eye and quick wit, died Monday. She was 88.
Russell had not attended a city council meeting since October 2018, when she made the first of several hospital visits over the last year and a half. Yet for months Russell insisted she would return to work and, to the surprise of no one, continued to handle paperwork and field questions from home well into last summer.
As friends and colleagues put it, “Anna was Anna.”
“Houston will have other city secretaries, but there will never be another Anna Adams Russell,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement emailed to news media. “Today, my heart is broken following news of Anna’s death.
“Employees all over the city can claim dedication to their jobs; some can claim top seniority at their workplaces. Anna humbly made no claims and didn’t need to,” the mayor said. “I’d ask God to rest her soul, but she was hardly interested in rest. Getting the job done for the public was her constant quest.”
Russell’s role, along with her nine staffers, was to compile the council agenda, keep the minutes, and maintain all city records, including ordinances and motions, candidate filings, campaign finance reports and lobbyist registrations.
The more visible part of her duties was to oversee council meetings in a chair to the mayor’s right, calling items to the floor and enforcing speaking rules.
Her trademark, “Thank you, your time has expired,” was almost as distinctive as her voice, a sweet but steely drawl that drew its twang from her girlhood in 1930s Lubbock and its roughness from decades of cigarettes.
I’m sure we’ll hear a ton of Anna Russell stories over the next few weeks. Honestly, what makes local politics the rich well of interest that it is is precisely because of dedicated, idiosyncratic, one-of-a-kind public servants like Anna Russell. She was, in a real if under-appreciated way by the larger public, the face of City Hall, much more than any Mayor ever could be. I look forward to the naming of some room or wing or building in the near future in her honor. Mayor Turner’s official statement is here. Rest in peace, Anna Russell.