Remembering Russ Willsey: Devoted Volunteer and Friend
Contributed by Sonya Wilson, Volunteer Coordinator
When I first met Russ Willsey thirteen years ago, it didn’t take long to realize he was a man of integrity, compassion, and fortitude. Shortly after he began his volunteer training with Community Healthcare of Texas – Providence Hospice in 2010, I knew Russ was destined to impact the lives of our patients and everyone he encountered.
But a life of service wasn’t new to Russ. He was a proud Korean War Veteran, serving his country as a Sergeant First Class in the United States Army from 1948 until 1954. He served the City of West as a Councilmember and Mayor from 1995 to 2007. And was a member of the West Volunteer Fire Department. In 2013 Russ was named the AmeriCorps Seniors-RSVP Volunteer of the Year in McClennan County.
Russ was introduced to one very special patient during his volunteer training with Providence Hospice. This man had once lived on the streets, had a unique personality, and was notoriously opinionated. After Russ completed his training, he came to me and requested to be this specific patient’s volunteer. I wasn’t sure Russ knew what he was getting himself into, but I agreed, and witnessing Russ serve and care for this patient was nothing short of inspiring.
As the patient began to decline, Russ was right by his side. When he could no longer climb down the steep and narrow steps of his small trailer home, Russ built the man a deck so he could sit outside and soak in the sunshine. When he wanted a tomato garden, Russ planted it. When he needed his hair cut, his dishes washed, or food in his pantry, Russ took care of it. But most importantly, Russ listened. He listened to a man that cried out for help and attention in a way that had made others turn a deaf ear. Russ truly made a difference in this patient’s life.
Russ continued to seek out challenging patients. He listened quietly, persevering when others gave up. He saw right to the heart of the person. He loved them when others didn’t. He encouraged, uplifted, and settled the most unsettled spirit of our patients.
In 2013, when we opened our new hospice house, Providence Hospice Place, Russ immediately jumped in to bring the same compassion and love to our patients there. But it wasn’t just the patients who looked forward to the days Russ was on the volunteer schedule; he had become like family to our entire staff, and his support was invaluable to them. So, when he chose to spend the final days of his life at our Providence Hospice Place, we had the honor of caring for him in the same way he had done for so many others over the years.
When Russ Willsey passed away on January 18, 2023, our community lost a selfless and devoted volunteer. I will forever be grateful to Russ for the countless ways he poured into the lives of people when they were at their most vulnerable, but more than anything, I am grateful for his friendship.