Nicholas Russell’s death, from a heart attack, has drawn tributes from across the disability and Labour movements.
Among his roles, he was a member of the union UNISON and the Trade Union Disability Alliance, a Labour councillor in the London borough of Waltham Forest for four years and a member of Labour’s national policy forum.
He had worked for the disability charities RNIB and Guide Dogs, as well as being active in the Co-operative party, was a lifelong socialist, and volunteered with the homeless charity Crisis, as well as playing a leading role in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
He had also worked as a transport officer for the former Greater London Action on Disability, helping to shape Transport for London’s disability access policies; campaigned to tighten the law on disability hate crime; was a member of the Metropolitan police’s disability independent advisory group; and helped set up and chair Stay Safe East, a disabled people’s organisation that combats disability hate crime and domestic violence.
Among his other roles he served on the committee for Disability Action Waltham Forest and the user-led organisation DANDA (the Developmental Adult Neuro-Diversity Association), and had recently been elected to the board of Inclusion London.
He was also the grandson of the philosopher, writer, mathematician and pacifist Bertrand Russell, and became the sixth Earl Russell on the death of his father, the Liberal Democrat peer Conrad Russell, in 2004.
Kirsten Hearn, chair of Inclusion London, said Russell’s death had left the disability rights movement “reeling”.
She said Russell had “persistently raised disability rights issues” within the Labour party and “was a skilled and gentle chair” of its disabled members group (now known as Disability Labour).
She said: “There are policies coming through which will inform the manifesto which indubitably would not be there had it not been for Nicholas’s dogged persistence.”
Hearn added: “Nicholas cared passionately about disabled people and how we organise, are engaged and able to lead policy.
“It is safe to say that Nicholas had his fingers in many pies. He worked hard to drive through change and played an important part in ensuring some joined-up working amongst the organisations he was involved with.”
Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), said Russell had been a “very active and very vocal” member of the executive committee of the national council of the British Council of Disabled People (now UKDPC), and had then become a UKDPC trustee.
She said: “He was an active member. He was always working to ensure that we kept our human rights and equalities perspective.
“He was somebody you could count on. He was consistent, he was loyal, he was very knowledgeable, and he loved the small print, he relished it.
“He was very gentle, very kind and very hard-working. I will miss his warmth and generosity.”
Although Russell had an “eye for detail” and was influential in the disability movement, Newman said he never “sought a lot of power”.
She added: “There are people who make the movement, and he was one of them.”
The disabled politician and campaigner Marie Pye, a Waltham Forest Labour councillor and former head of public sector delivery at the Disability Rights Commission, said on Twitter: “So sad to hear about the sudden death of Nicholas Russell. A dedicated campaigner for disabled people.”
Helen Dearman, from RNIB’s policy and campaigns team, said colleagues had been “saddened” to hear of his death.
She said: “A much loved and respected colleague for a number of years, Nicholas was a tenacious campaigner, working at RNIB on a range of issues around transport and disability equality.
“Nicholas was closely involved with a number of organisations across local government and the voluntary sector, working tirelessly to protect and extend disabled people’s rights.”
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said he was “very deeply saddened” by Russell’s death.
He said: “His quiet determination was brilliant. This is a real loss to the disability movement.”
Russell’s Facebook page was flooded with tributes and references to his campaigning work.
They described him as “kind, modest and gentle” and someone who was “always working tirelessly to help other people”.
One, Dave Allan, said Russell had “worked tirelessly for disabled and other disadvantaged people” and “spent the last months ensuring that the next Labour government would be committed to disability rights”.
He added: “Disabled people will not know what a champion they have lost.”
The Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, vice-chair of CND, who had known Russell since the 1980s, said: “All the years I knew Nicholas he was always a doggedly determined campaigner for peace, in opposition to nuclear weapons, and a doughty opponent of the arms trade and the moral corruption it brings.
“He was always present at CND national council meetings, where he was a most insistent participant and contributor.”
He said that Russell’s work and life were also dominated by disability rights and “as a worker and campaigner he was very effective, ensuring that many people’s lives were radically improved by access and changed attitudes by employers and public services”.
Corbyn added: “I am shocked and saddened at his death at such a young age. He made a big contribution to all the causes he was involved with, showing spirited determination for his beliefs.”
21 August 2014