‘Uncle Obie’ Russell celebrates 105 years of life

Published 9:14 pm Monday, January 6, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Obie Russell urged his niece Cathie McKinney not to stop.

“We’ll never get in there,” Russell said. “Look at all those people.”

“They’re all here to see you Uncle Obie,” McKinney said. “Just to see you.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Red’s Little Schoolhouse Restaurant was packed Sunday to celebrate with Obie Russell who was celebrating his 105th birthday.

“Uncle Obie,” as he is affectionately called,  usually “pulls a caper” on three-dight birthdays. He celebrated one such birthday soaring over Briar Hill with him taking over the controls. On yet another, he renewed his driver’s license but, last year, the opted for a non-driver’s ID “because it was cheaper,” he said, with a smile.

“And, this year?”

Russell was non-committal. “My birthday’s not until Monday.”

On Sunday, Russell was surrounded by family and friends and that sums it up because everybody who knows Uncle Obie is a friend, not a neighbor ..”friends” and he loves them all.

“And everybody loves him,” McKinney said. “How can you not love this wonderful man? He is a blessing to everybody who knows him.”

Obie Lancit Russell is a native Pike Countian. He grew up when a man was only as good as his word and Russell’s word was, and is, as good as gold. He was a cattle farmer and he loved working the land and he also loved his country. He wanted to serve his Uncle Sam but was unable to pass the physical. So, he left his beloved Briar Hill and accepted a Civil Service job that placed him at Fort Benning, Georgia as the manager of a post exchange. In that position, he had the privilege of serving General George Patton’s 3rd Army on the post and during maneuvers.

He heard Patton’s famous speech at “the Bowl” in Columbus, Georgia. Russell said if he couldn’t serve Uncle Sam as a foot soldier serving Patton and his men was the next best thing.

The Civil Service job was a good one, but Russell’s heart was in the heartlands of Alabama He came home to Briar Hill and he and his wife Eddie May bought farmland for  $7 and $8 an acre and soon opened a country store, Russell’s Grocery, that quickly became the hub of the Briar Hill community.

“They built a house and Uncle Obie wanted to brick it,”McKinney said. “But that would have cost $600 more but Uncle Obie decided he couldn’t go that deep in debt.

Russell worked devotedly for the Briar Hill community. He accepted a position on the Pine Level Water Authority and serve without pay because he wanted to be of service to the community.

He retired when he was 62 years old and draws a scant monthly check from Social Security. McKinney said people can’t believe how little he draws.

“But, there’s a reason,” she said. “Uncle Obie’s daddy was a sharecropper. Both of his legs were broken in an accident and he was unable to work. Uncle Obie worked with lumber and sold it in his daddy’s name for 16 quarters so his daddy could qualify for government assistance. That’s the kind of man he was and the kind of man he is.”

Russell said he has no real secrets to a long life but he said he has always tries to make the best of every day. “And, I do everything  in moderation.”

“Care about those around you and make a good name for yourself,” Russell said. “I start every day with  a bowl of instant grits and coffee and keep my feet happy  in agile socks!”

Russell said he is blessed to be celebrating 105 years and to have so many loving family members and friends.

As for doing an amazing feat on his 105th birthday, Russell said being  at Red’s and blowing out the “105 candles” was pretty amazing. “I think,” he said, with a smile.

Charlie Turnipseed was one of the many who celebrated Obie Russell’s birthday with him on Sunday. Each person  who attended Russell’s 105th birthday party has special memories him. Turnipseed capsuled the feelings of the man they all call “uncle.”

Obie Russell is ‘Uncle Obie’ to three or four generations in this part of Pike County,” Turnipseed said. “He has a genuine love for the place and its people. While aging certainly takes a toll on people, it had a tough fight with Obie Russell. He still has remarkable eyesight and memory and both were of amazing quality until very recently. If he’s near a newspaper when this is printed, he’s likely to read it and be offended that anyone would question his health in any way.

“Uncle Obie has always been vocal in his opinions and is known as a character in our parts. That term is one of affection. He has come to the aid of numerous people in times of need and his name is legendary in our corner of the world. I don’t recall the exact year that he moved into Briar Hill, or back to Briar Hill, but he did it with gusto, buying his house, store and land and shaping it in his own image to the extent he was able.

“Obie’s physical stature might have been diminished by age, but his stature in this community will remain larger than life as long as anyone lives who carries the memory of his life and his influence.”