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In Memoriam: Russ Reilly

July 26, 2019

The following was sent to Middlebury College students and employees in an email from President Laurie Patton on July 26, 2019. 

Russ Reilly, 1997

To the Middlebury Community:

I write with sadness to report that Russell L. Reilly, longtime men’s basketball coach and administrator, died Wednesday, July 24, 2019, at his home. Russ worked full time for the Middlebury College Department of Athletics for 29 years. In the year before his retirement, he returned to coaching men’s basketball—as a volunteer assistant—and continued in this role for the last 13 seasons. 

“Russ was a pillar of the College and local communities because of his huge heart, and equally big smile and laugh,” said Director of Athletics Erin Quinn. “He set the standard for our department with his integrity and ethics as a coach and administrator, and always led with a sense of humor. It has been a blessing that after his retirement he was still actively engaged with us in many roles, including assistant men’s basketball coach, golf course employee, member of the Hall of Fame selection committee, and, of course, as the PA announcer with the iconic voice of Middlebury football. Russ was beloved and will be missed.”    

Russ arrived at Middlebury in 1977 as an assistant men’s basketball coach. He began his longtime role as head coach the following year, serving in that position from 1978 to 1997. Russ then took over as the Athletics Department’s director in 1997, after the retirement of G. Thomas Lawson. During Russ’s tenure, Middlebury expanded its athletics facilities significantly by adding Kenyon Arena, Kohn Field, and a softball diamond. The College also renovated the fitness center, Pepin Gymnasium, Duke Nelson Recreational Center, and the Bubble (later replaced by Virtue Field House).

When Russ retired in 2006, then president Ronald D. Liebowitz said, “Russ Reilly has been the understated, but essential, force in our program, responsible for setting the tone that defines the values we try to impart to our student-athletes: discipline, dedication, determination, teamwork, personal growth, and having fun along the way. In addition, he is, simply put, a terrific guy.”

The College enjoyed tremendous success under Russ’s leadership as director of athletics, capturing 22 National Championships and 35 NESCAC Championships. He also served on numerous NESCAC and NCAA committees.

“Russ’s insistence that Middlebury’s women student-athletes be allowed the same opportunities as their male counterparts connects directly to the success of our women’s teams today,” said longtime former Middlebury coach and administrator Missy Foote. “He was a fair, kind, and fun athletic director and colleague, and we will miss his guidance and leadership.”

In 1988, Russ’s peers selected him as the NABC Northeast District and UPI New England Division III Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year after the Panthers received the Most Improved Team Award. He was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. He also served as the women’s soccer and men’s golf coach.

Russ was also a committed member of the Middlebury community, coordinating the United Way golf tournament from 1986 to 1996 and serving on the organization’s board of directors for several years. His longtime relationship with Butch Varno, a local citizen with cerebral palsy, was highlighted in an Emmy Award–winning feature on ESPN in 2003.

Russ was a graduate of Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where he played four years of basketball. Upon graduation in the spring of 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, he attended Boston University to work on his master’s degree in physical education. While at BU, Russ served as an assistant men’s basketball and baseball coach. He obtained his master’s degree in the spring of 1968 and then taught junior high school science for one year in Natick, Massachusetts. He returned to his alma mater in the fall of 1969 to serve as an assistant men’s basketball coach for eight years. He also served as the head athletics trainer and the director of the Bates intramural program.

“Russ had a tremendous impact on the Middlebury College community and was the kindest person I’ve ever known,” said current head men’s basketball coach Jeff Brown. “His love of his family and all things Middlebury serves as an example for all the colleagues and students that he impacted during his 40-plus years on campus.”

Russ is survived by his wife, Jane Reilly of New Haven; his three daughters and their husbands, Jennifer and Michael Lukela of Ann Arbor, Mich., Jody and Kevin Soja of Lakeville, Conn., and Lindsay and Eamonn Bradley of Haverhill, Mass.; and his grandchildren, Henry and Nicholas Lukela, Russell and William Soja, and Connor, Padraig, Ashlinn, and Kaetlyn Bradley.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Russell L. Reilly Scholarship Fund at Middlebury College or the MPN Research Network (c/o Director of Development, MPN Research Foundation, 180 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1870, Chicago, IL 60601). A celebration of life will be held on campus on Saturday, September 21, 2019, at 3 p.m. at Mead Chapel, followed by a reception in Pepin Gymnasium. 

Laurie L. Patton