Memphis Daily News
Firefighter’s Widow Works Tirelessly to End Drunk Driving
November 2, 2015
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald
It was Saturday, July 29, 1995, a typical summer day for the Russell family. Bobby Russell Jr., 41, a Memphis firefighter, was working in the yard with his two sons when he was struck and killed on his front lawn by an impaired driver. Nothing was ever typical again for the Russell family.
“What do you do when your whole world is flipped?” said Dell Russell Wallace, Bobby’s widow. “How do we go on? I needed help, and I was open to anything that would help me survive and help my children remain good people.”
She and her three children received that help from supportive friends, family, her church and the children’s school community. But her reason to go on came from a group about whom she knew nothing.
Shortly after Bobby’s death, she had a visit from a Victim’s Advocate from the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). MADD was started in 1980 by a grieving mother, Candy Lightner, to curb drunk driving after her daughter was killed by a repeat offender. MADD’s mission is straightforward: “to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes and prevent underage drinking.” Since that time MADD has served more than 300,000 victims nationwide through its many local offices, and countless lives have been saved through the group’s efforts. In 2004, a national victim’s service Help Line (1-800-MADD-HELP) was launched as a dedicated 24/7 resource for drunk driving victim support.
“I met people like me who lost loved ones through violent death,” Dell recalls. “Advocates from the Shelby County Chapter of MADD walked with me through the court system, sat with me at the trial, and help me understand the workings of the criminal justice system. It was harder than you can ever imagine.”
Even more important than that help was the sense of direction and purpose MADD gave her. When her husband was killed, Dell vowed to honor his life and his memory. Bobby Russell was a brave man, a firefighter who chose to risk his life every day for the safety of others. He lost his own life in his front yard by the destructive choice of another. Through her association with MADD, Dell brought meaning to the tragedy and worked through her grief in a way that not only gave meaning to her husband’s life and to her new reality without him; but she also used the story of his death to help save the lives of others.
Dell has been a volunteer for MADD for the past 19 years. The message she shares is about education and prevention. She speaks to organizations, prisoners about to be released for drunk driving offenses, high school groups, and is on the Victim Impact Panel, a series of classes for first offenders ordered by the court. She recently remarried, and her husband, Jim, staunchly supports her in this mission.
As we approach the most dangerous time of the year on our nation’s highways for drunk driving tragedies between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, remember Bobby Russell, and drive responsibly.
Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit mcd-partners.com