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A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday in Central Presbyterian Church, Main Street at Jewett Parkway, for Virginia Willis Russell, 82, former director of Buffalo's senior citizens program.

She died Wednesday (March 22, 1995) in Sisters Hospital after a brief illness.

Born Virginia Willis in Buffalo, she was a graduate of Bennett High School and the University of Buffalo. She married James Russell in 1936. He died in 1987.

She began her career in community affairs and public service by working with the Erie County Welfare Department after graduating from college.

Working with the Red Cross prior to World War II, she helped set up a program to train workers for emergency disaster services and, through the League of Women Voters, worked with radio speakers to organize the Battle for Production, which urged preparedness in case of attack. Later, she served on the Tonawanda War Council.

After the war, she created Builders Exchange Realty, a program that enabled purchasers to help build low-cost homes as part of their down payment. As conservation chairwoman of the New York State Federation of Women's Clubs, she fought dumping of wastes into the Great Lakes. She and her family also planted thousands of trees in Western New York.

She was an unsuccessful candidate for an at-large seat on the Buffalo Common Council in 1963 and later became a member of the Erie County Board of Supervisors, representing the 20th Ward.

She was named director of Buffalo's senior citizens program in 1966. Under her leadership, new senior centers and nutrition centers were opened, a transportation system was started and outreach programs were begun for elderly persons at home alone.

She organized the Council of Senior Citizens, a private group that was the predecessor of the Council of Senior Citizens Clubs. To handle activities not covered by other senior citizens organizations, she formed the Over Forty-Niners of Western New York.

Her interest in science and radioactive pollution led to her receipt of patents in 1987 and 1992 for shielding nuclear wastes and converting nuclear radiation into electricity.

She also taught piano, beginning at the age of 13, and saw some of her students go on to play with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. She gave yearly recitals and at the time of her death had 20 students.

Surviving are four sons, James W. of Newport News, Va., Brian Stonewell of Cambridge, Mass., and Robert and Gary, both of New York City; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.


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