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Covid-19 victim was educator remembered for her kindness

Catherine Phillips-Russ of Kenmore knew how to revive a weary spirit, according to her daughter, Elizabeth Curtis.

Phillips-Russ, a longtime administrator with Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services, might accomplish the feat with a bouquet of flowers, a home-cooked meal or a few kind words for the frazzled or downtrodden.

Phillips-Russ, 64, died April 4 from the effects of Covid-19 at Kenmore Mercy Hospital, her daughter said.

"Up until the point of getting sick, she was completely healthy and living a completely happy and productive life," her daughter said.

In late March, Phillips-Russ sought treatment for what she thought was a sinus infection. After four or five days on antibiotics, Phillips-Russ seemed to be recovering. But she took a nap on a Sunday, and woke up having trouble breathing, Curtis recalled.

Phillips-Russ was admitted to Kenmore Mercy. It was the last time her family would see her. On her second or third day there, Phillips-Russ was placed in a medically induced coma.

"They called on a Saturday evening and told the family that they had lost my mother's pulse, but they would try to resuscitate her. Five minutes later, they called back and said she was dead," said Curtis.

"It was very sudden, and it was unfair, I guess, is the word I would use. My mother was a person who gave to everyone else first. So, I think for the family it's hard for us to understand why something like this would happen to a person who lived their life, really, to serve others the majority of the time," Curtis added.

Curtis said she has heard from some of her mom's colleagues and former students, and their parents, who expressed how much Phillips-Russ meant to them.

She recalled her mother, a Cardinal O'Hara Catholic High School graduate, working hard to get degrees in education from Daemen College.

"She definitely was the motivation for me to become a special education teacher," said Curtis.

However, it was her mother's kindness that Curtis will treasure.

"When people were having a bad day, Cathy was the one who made sure everybody was OK. She'd bring them flowers or make a meal, if that's what it took," Curtis said.

Phillips-Russ also leaves behind her husband of 32 years, Stephen; another daughter, Margaret Russ; a sister, Elizabeth Marshall; four brothers, Joseph Phillips, John Phillips, Thomas Phillips and Paul Phillips; and a 12-year-old grandson, Cameron Curtis.

The Buffalo News is publishing stories about people from Buffalo Niagara who have died due to Covid-19. Please contact The News at if you know of someone whose story we should tell.

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