Tillie “Gerry” Russo
January 20, 1925 – February 10, 2021
You may have known our mother as Gerry, the short, smiling woman who, for the past 11 years, sped along Woodland Pond hallways, her rollator adorned with ribbons, stopping to ask how you were and give you a big hello. Gerry passed away from a stroke on February 10 at Vassar Brother’s hospital.
Gerry was born Tillie Seglin, only daughter to Joseph Seglin and Esther Redner, in 1925 in Brooklyn, NY.
Her parents met in Palestine in 1920, then under British control, but destined to become Israel. Her father left his hometown of Minsk, Russia, and Esther traveled with her two brothers from Krakow, Poland. They both departed their respective homelands fleeing the pressure of heightened Jewish persecution in post-WWI Eastern Europe. Joseph and Esther moved to the United States in 1922. They left behind many family members who died in the Holocaust, or otherwise did not survive WWII.
Gerry’s parents were politically left-wing, and were Jewish, but did not actively practice religion. As a teen, she along with some girlfriends chose new nicknames for themselves. She chose the name Gerry and adopted it as her lifelong identity with friends and family.
She met our dad, Louis Russo, while working for the US Army Corps of Engineers and they traveled to Greece for a year as part of the Marshall Plan to rebuild that country after WWII. During the McCarthy era, her background was investigated, but she was able to retain her government job as a clerk. She stayed home to care for us when we were in grade school, and later went back to work as a bookkeeper for a few NYC-based companies.
Gerry and Lou were married in 1947, and shared life together until he passed away in 2006.
As a mom, she was open-minded, fun-loving and adventurous. She did typical mom things: baked cookies, made ice pops in Tupperware, ran the PTA book fair and drove us to Jones Beach on hot summer days. She did some unusual mom things: got the principal to stop the tradition of saying prayers in our public school, arranged for folk singers to entertain during ‘auditorium’ and tried to feed us ‘health food’ including wheat germ and whole-wheat bread, instead of the Wonder bread our friends ate.
She loved to learn and keep up with current affairs. She was an avid reader and article-clipper of the New York Times. She read fiction, favorite authors being Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Turgenev and Tolstoy; and non-fiction, favorite topics being politics and history. She loved visiting art museums and attending concerts.
When we were young, she was an enthusiastic birdwatcher, and took weekend trips in order to fill out her Peterson guide life list. She dragged neighbors’ discarded Christmas trees into our yard for the birds to shelter in. She especially loved cats, cared for several of her own over the years, and worked with a rescue group to help feral cats in our Queens neighborhood.
Shopping was her therapy. She could spend hours perusing a department store, or even the supermarket, while our dad napped in the car. Even more than buying things for herself, she loved buying gifts for others.
Gerry inherited and nurtured a fervent belief that the world could and should become a better place for all people. She was a supporter of a great many of what back in the day was called “liberal” (now termed “progressive”) causes.
Gerry was generous, fun-loving, involved, engaged, and compassionate. She will be missed by her children, Michael and Andrea Russo, her son-in-law Michael Zierler and her grandson Sam Zierler, of New Paltz, and her extended family throughout New York and California. Donations in her honor can be made to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary and the Woodstock Animal Sanctuary.