Russell Hilliard

Russell Ellsworth Hilliard

1929 - 2024

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Obituary of Russell Ellsworth Hilliard

Russell Ellsworth Hilliard

Russell Hilliard, formerly of Chowen Avenue, Edina, passed away on March 1, 2024 after no particular illness other than the cumulative and exacting tolls of managing age and the independent lifestyle he cherished. He was 94.  Russ was fortunate to dine out with a friend as usual on Saturday evening, experienced breathing difficulties on Monday, and was admitted to Fairview Southdale for tests and recognition of generalized systemic failures. He returned to his home and hospice at Gideon Pond Presbyterian Home in Bloomington, on Friday afternoon, and with little delay began his next journey. It was a nearly seamless transition from this world to the next, which he faced with his trademark dignity and grace.

Russell was born in East Kingston, New Hampshire, to John C. and Hazel (Goldthwaite) Hilliard and was forever proud of his New England heritage. He graduated from The Juliard School of Music and from Harvard College in 1950 (at the age of 20), and was the first in his hard working family to receive a college degree. A life-long educator, Russ began his teaching career at Pembroke Country Day School, St. Louis, Mo.  He completed his M.A. at Columbia University in New York in 1952 and was recruited to teach at the Blake School in Hopkins, MN, where he spent his entire professional career, retiring in 1991. For some 34 years, he taught the Spanish language, advised school clubs (Cum Laude Society), served as a college advisor, and was in charge of a variety of student services in the early digital age; Russ was the accompanist for the school glee club, and led students on many memorable trips to Mexico and Latin America.


Enumerating his responsibilities does not begin to describe Russ’s  contributions. As a former student wrote, “ My favorite quote from Russ: ‘ I didn’t really teach Spanish, I taught life.’ In truth, I learned both but his course in “life” is what mattered most.”


His musical talents were invaluable to the life of the school; even today, Russ is remembered and admired for his" daily morning ballet" at the Blake School organ for chapel services. Students who long ago have forgotten Spanish verbs  remember  Russ’s versatility and mastery of the organ and piano. A man of quiet dignity, Russ had an excellent sense of humor, a razor sharp wit and, always, an insightful retort. He was skilled as a public speaker and an immediate favorite to lead a “roast” of a retiring colleague.

Russell was loyal to his two families: one in New Hampshire and beyond, and one he called his “Minnesota family”. He maintained a wide network of friends, neighbors, colleagues, former students, and increasingly, the families of former students. He relished his continued interactions and always was available to listen, probe, and enjoy. His code of conduct for himself and for others was clear: do your best, be prepared, be timely, be kind, be courteous. He thought everyone should have a Christmas present, and never went to a dinner without a hostess gift and a thank you note, or an appreciative word to a server. As a lifetime practice, he visited the ill, the elderly, and the grieving with tact and kindness. Russell loved a good party.   In his quiet and determined way, Russ was an outstanding example of teacher, mentor, friend, citizen. We  are fortunate to have shared his time.

Russell is  predeceased by his parents, brother John Stanton, niece Kathi (Wasson) Hilliard, and nephew David Hilliard. He is survived by sister-in-law Francene(Campton, NH), nieces Karen Wright (Englewood, OH)and Dory Hilliard (Haverhill, MA),  and nephew John and his wife Michele ( Lady Lake, FL), many great- nieces and -nephews (of which Adele and Nicholas were predeceased). He also leaves behind many dear friends and colleagues. Special thanks to the medical staff and Dr. Wright at Fairview Southdale, and to Andrea at Gideon Pond . Special thanks also to the Minnesota Cremation Society.

A Memorial Service is to be held at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, April 5, 2024, at Gideon Pond Presbyterian Home, with reception to follow.( Address:  9901 Penn Avenue South, Bloomington, MN 55431). Russell’s  interment will be in the Hilliard family plot in East Kingston, NH.  Memorials to the Blake School or to the donor's choice. Memorials to the Blake School (110 Blake Road South,  Hopkins, MN 55343 ) should be addressed to the Russ Hilliard Endowment Fund.

A Memorial Tree was planted for Russell
We are deeply sorry for your loss ~ the staff at Cremation Society of Minnesota