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A co-worker remembered

Vicki McWilliams-Russell
Vicki Russell, who worked as assistant to Dr. Jeffrey A. Rossmann, chair of the periodontics department, passed away June 25. She is shown here decked out in Harley-Davidson colors, some of her favorite.

Russell’s wry sense of humor, no-nonsense persona will be missed in periodontics department

Vicki Russell may have kept a low profile around Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry, but to those who worked with her in the Department of Periodontics, her no-nonsense attitude and wry sense of humor added spice to any day.

Russell, who was an employee of the college since 2004 and most recently worked as assistant to the department head in periodontics, passed away June 25. Throughout the summer days that have followed, Russell’s colleagues in the department have taken pause to remember the woman who loved riding motorcycles and could make anyone around her feel good.

Among their favorite memories is a special photograph given to Russell by Dr. Terry Rees, professor and director of stomatology.

“Vicki was always very dedicated to both motorcycles and to NASCAR racing,” Rees says. “Her favorite race-car driver was Jeff Gordon. Once my wife, Bo, and I were traveling in NASCAR country and found a life-size cardboard image of Jeff Gordon in his racing regalia. There was another headless cardboard image adjacent to him into which one inserted his/her face. I did this and gave it to Vicki. She had it framed and kept it in her office for many years. 

“Since I am short, my head inserted into the cardboard cutout left me without a visible neck and we always called the picture ‘Jeff and No-Neck,’” Rees continues. “She didn’t mind because her racecar guy was in the picture!”

Vicki McWilliams-Russell
Russell was known for her passion for all things
motorcycles and Harley-Davidson.

Dr. Jeffrey Rossmann, professor and chair of the periodontics department, recalls Russell’s love of shot glasses from exotic locales.

“I will remember her efficiency,
her no-nonsensical mannerisms,
her wry sense of humor, her love of life.”

— Dr. Celeste Abraham

“Vicki was a collector of shot glasses from around the world and took pride in vicariously sharing the travel experience with the people presenting their mementos to her from their trips,” Rossmann says. “She had accumulated a large collection of shot glasses from all corners of the earth, mostly given to her from our faculty travels. I think she enjoyed displaying them as much as the people who traveled to get them.”

One thing was for sure — Russell always made sure her colleagues knew her likes and dislikes. Among her least favorite things were needles and chocolate cake.

“We would all get tickled when Vicki was in earshot of anyone talking about needles. She dreaded needles!” says Jennifer Rabal, patient appointment associate in periodontics. “Her response was always the same and I can hear her voice now. ‘Ooooohhhh, noooo … I couldn’t do that.’ It was so comical to see her and hear her!”

April Matthews, also a patient appointment associate in periodontics and a friend of Russell’s, says she was never in the dark when it came to knowing which cake to make for Russell for their yearly cake exchange.

“One of the things I will always remember about my friend Vicki was she did not like chocolate. Among Jennifer Rabal, Vicki and me, we had a birthday cake exchange for one another every year,” Matthews says. “For the past several years I would make Vicki a homemade carrot cake. Vicki would have celebrated a birthday in August and I will miss not making that special cake this year.”

One of the things Matthews remembers most vividly is Russell periodically huddling up to the PAAs’ space heater to warm up, chat and just be with her colleagues, even though she had a heater of her own just feet away, tucked near her desk.

Her knack for humor wasn’t lost on anyone.

“I brought back several black and pink ‘Front Desk Goddess’ pins from the Southwest Dental Conference one year,” recalls Angela Lee-Noles, surgical assistant in periodontics. “Vicki put up the pin I gave her immediately on her wall. She will always be remembered as my first ‘Front Desk Goddess!’”

In addition to Russell’s straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is persona were other traits much appreciated by department colleagues.

“Vicki was ready and willing to assist me with anything at all in the department,” says Dr. Celeste Abraham, assistant professor in periodontics. “I will remember her efficiency, her no-nonsensical mannerisms, her wry sense of humor, her love of life.”

Denise Frazier, who works as a dental dispensing technician I in clinical affairs, says Russell’s willingness to help sticks out most in her mind. But what Frazier will miss more than anything is Russell’s caring spirit.

Others echo that thought.

“She was very helpful to me,” says Arlene Jackson, dental dispensing technician I in clinical affairs. “When my grandson came to visit me at work, he would always go to Vicki first and give her a hug. I will miss her smile. She always said ‘girl’ to me and that made me feel good. Whenever there was an event, she always made sure I was included.”

Dr. Matt Heaton, who earned his dental degree from TAMHSC-BCD in 2004 and completed a periodontics residency at the college in 2007, remembers how Russell helped him during those years.

“Having known her from my senior year in pre-doc through my years in the perio department, she was something like a big sister: always looking out for her charges, pulling strings when appropriate, but not afraid to smack you on the head when you did something stupid!” Heaton recalls. “She always had a special place in my heart, and I will miss her dearly.”