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In Memoriam: Denise Russell

Denise Russell (left) with Practicum Office colleague Mindy Coplevitch

Last month, the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work lost a cherished member of its administrative team. Denise Russell, who joined FIFSW as a practicum assistant in 2010, died following a brief and sudden illness at age 59.

Denise was integral to the practicum office and an inspiration to those she worked with. In addition to being incredibly effective and efficient in her role, she is remembered at FIFSW for her cheerful presence on the fourth floor, her kindness and positivity, and her dedication to the Faculty’s collective success.

Denise’s relationship with University of Toronto began after completing her undergraduate degree at McGill University. She received a Master of Science in Planning and, later, a Master of Education, both at U of T.

Throughout her time at FIFSW, Denise’s zest for life rubbed off on others who were often drawn to her office to exchange stories and experiences on knitting, nature, animals, travel and books. She developed deep and lasting relationships with the practicum partners and field instructors, who noted the immediate difference she made upon starting her role. Among her colleagues, she was known for her ability to problem solve, provide support and make everyone feel like they mattered.

Practicum Office staff Catherine Connochie and Mel LeBlanc with Denise Russell (right)

Beyond the Practicum Office, Denise joined other FIFSW staff and faculty to create space and opportunities for mindfulness sessions. She was also active across the U of T campus. She could often be found on her lunch hour swimming at Hart House, skating at Varsity or taking a stroll on Philosopher’s Walk.

Denise attracted deep admiration and respect for her success at balancing both work and life. Family and friends remember her passion for learning, her enthusiasm for new experiences, her dedication to wildlife, and her constant kindness. She set an example for a life well lived that so many of us aspire to achieve.

On April 6, FIFSW held celebration of Denise’s life for staff, faculty and those who have served as practicum partners. That same week, U of T’s flag, dressed with a black cravat, was placed outside the main office at FIFSW to mark the occasion of mourning as a sign of institutional respect in her memory.

She will be deeply missed.

Donations in Denise’s memory can be made to the Ontario Wildlife Foundation, the Canadian Cancer Society or Toronto General Hospital.