‘A passionate Labradorian’

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Ryan Russell’s father gives tribute to his late son

It was 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon when Gary Russell was told what the rest of Labrador only found out Thursday; the human remains that were found on the banks of the Churchill River Nov. 4 belong to his son, Ryan Russell.

For now, the news hasn’t brought closure to the family, but it may be the beginning of a long healing process.

“It seems like it took us back to the day he went missing. My wife is really devastated,” Gary said. “Last night, I didn’t sleep thinking about it. … This is it, he’s coming home now.

“For us, it’s difficult to see closure right at this moment. But I would say after he’s put to rest, I would say we would feel a lot more relief. Probably the healing will begin.”

Ryan Russell was one of three men who went missing after a boating accident near Muskrat Falls in 2010. The tragedy touched many across Labrador, especially in central Labrador and his hometown of Charlottetown.

At the time Ryan went missing, he was taking a millwright course at the College of the North Atlantic in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Just like when he was growing up in Charlottetown, Ryan had no trouble touching the lives of those he met in Goose Bay.

During his time at the college, Ryan befriended a young man named Evan from Makkovik. Ryan would often bring his new friend back to Charlottetown for visits.

According to Gary Russell, Evan never forgot about that friendship. Five months ago, when he became a father, Evan paid tribute to his late friend.

“Evan now has a baby boy and they got him called Ryan,” Russell said with pride.

It’s not surprising that Ryan was popular and met people throughout his travels in life.

He was a busy young man, who was restless when he wasn’t doing something physically active like hunting or playing floor hockey.

There was no time in Ryan’s life to waste hours of a day playing video games or fiddling around on Facebook.

“He was a passionate Labradorian. He never wanted to leave Labrador. He was an outdoors person (loved) hunting, trapping, right from about the time he was able to carry a gun,” Russell recalled.

“He was on all the school teams — volleyball, basketball, floor hockey. … He was a tremendous athlete, worked out in the gym everyday.”

Even though Ryan was a competitive athlete, he never forgot that friends and family were the most important.

His father recalls a time when Ryan won a sportsmanship award during the provincial high school volleyball championships.

After receiving the medal he immediately turned and put it on the neck of Clarence Burden, who assisted the team on their travels and who had experienced a recent tragedy.

“There’s a guy here, Clarence Burden, he lost his son in a SkiDoo accident. … When Ryan won the sportsmanship award he took his sportsmanship award and put it around Clarence’s neck,” Russell explained.

“He always thought of others and he was so kind and compassionate.”

Following Ryan’s disappearance, Russell continued to learn things about his son he never knew. After receiving Ryan’s laptop, Gary was astounded to find out that his son had a talent that was hidden from him and his wife.

“When I got his laptop back from the college, he had recorded 26 songs … and I was amazed because I didn’t really know he could sing.

“Every time he got out of school — lunch hour, supper hour — he would pick up the guitar. He was an unbelievable guitar player, but he wouldn’t sing where we were.”

Russell said the medical examiner’s office hasn’t released Ryan’s remains, but the family is hoping to receive them by Monday, which will allow them to have a memorial service sometime mid-week.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about his friends and we really even hadn’t a memorial service (before). … A lot of his friends are still hurting bad. I think this will put a sense of closure.”

The memorial service will take place at the Pentecostal Church in Charlottetown and will include a slideshow presentation, some songs and tributes from friends. Based on Ryan’s touching 18 years on Earth, there will be much to pay tribute for.

“He packed 18 years, and I have no regrets at all,” said Russell.

“I wouldn’t change a thing. He gave us 18 years of pure joy.”

The Labradorian

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, Pentecostal Church

Geographic location: Labrador, Charlottetown, Muskrat Falls Happy Valley Goose Bay Makkovik

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