Wilma with Lisa Pavane at a Chairman’s Dinner in 2018

Many of our members will be sad to learn of the passing of Wilma Russel, a long-standing Friends member, on 13 March 2021. Wilma was a fixture at many Friends events, from high teas to race day events and will be missed by many in our ballet family.

Life members Robert McCormack AM and Alan Jackson have both written tributes to Wilma, sharing some of their memories.

From Robert McCormack

Wilma was a one-off and an absolute devotee of all things Ballet. She had an encyclopaedic knowledge, not only of the history and times of The Australian Ballet Company, but also of the history of the growth of the art of ballet in Australia.

Wilma was one of the first members of the Friends I met when I joined the Council in 1990. We became fast friends from that moment on. She was a wonderful and loyal supporter of all of the many functions and activities of the Friends and was always an eager attendee at all of them, especially those that were held at my home in Potts Point.

To say that Wilma was a colourful personality would not do her justice – she was very sociable and stood out in a crowd. Above all, she loved being a Friend and being with her coterie of other like-minded Friends who loyally supported all our fund-raising efforts.

Although Wilma rarely spoke of her life beyond the Friends, I now know something of her background, in particular that she was a highly regarded, much valued expert needlewoman and had worked, for many years as a very valued member of the Wardrobe Department of The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust until she suffered an injury to one of her hands which prevented her from continuing in that vocation. This information accounts for the many, wonderfully stylish outfits in which she appeared on many occasions.

Wilma made no secret of her abiding love of her pet cats, upon which she lavished much love and caring attention.

Both Greg Khoury and I attended her quiet, but very moving, funeral on 24 March 2021, representing The Australian Ballet Company and the Friends. We were both delighted to meet many of the members of Wilma’s close and loving family along with several of her near neighbours, many of whom spoke in their eulogies, very movingly, of their love and respect and admiration of her.

Wilma’s love of all things to do with cats, moved her, with great delight, to attend so many performances of the 1984/85 Sydney Season of the production of the musical Cats that the Producer (Cameron Mackintosh – who was one of my clients at the time) invited Wilma to not only attend the final performance of the Season but also the Final Night Party afterwards, and also provided her with a limousine to pick her up and return her home, for the occasion. She was seated in the front row of the Theatre Royal and was presented, on stage with the cast, with a huge bouquet. I like to think that this would have been an unforgettable occasion for Wilma.

I, and the many others who knew her, will always remember Wilma as, not only a loyal and lovable eccentric, but, more importantly, as a deeply loyal Friend of the Australian Ballet who was loved by her family and many friends, of whom I respectfully, include myself.
– Robert McCormack AM.

From Alan Jackson

Wilma Russell was a long time member and supporter of  the Friends of The Australian Ballet and subscriber of The Australian Ballet.

Wilma would attend most of the Friends’ functions – the Friends’ talks, afternoon teas, lunches and dinners and the Race Days at Canterbury Park where one year she won most elegant lady award, wearing a bright red suit and matching red hat; she was so overcome to win the prize. Wilma also had another great love beside Ballet; it was her dear donkeys, which she sponsored to live out their old age with love and comfort.

Wilma will be missed.
– Alan Jackson Life Member of the Friends of The Australian Ballet