Rick Russell – The Man and the Award

Since 2004, Mentor Discover Inspire has honored men with the “Rick Russell Memorial Membership Award,” presented to those men who have displayed a strong sense of heart in the work they have done within the MDI organization and within the lives of the men. The description of the award and the man that bears its name is detailed here.


The Man

Rick Russell was a man who some say was larger than life. 

Though, yes, he was a large man in stature, his true greatness was how much he cared about the men and how high his purpose and vision reached. 

One of his visions, and well-known proclamation, was to see a men’s team on every block.

Having done the Men’s Weekend in the mid-80s, he spent time in leadership within the local men’s organization in Vancouver, in what was known at the time as Men’s Divisions International, as well as working for a time for the Sterling Institute of Relationships in Oakland, California. 

His enrollment skills were second to none, leading his Vancouver region to grow from one division to three, from 600 to 900 men, helping to produce Sterling Men’s Weekends three times per year for two years. 

Brad Leslie, who was on Russell’s men’s team for six years, lovingly describes him as a BC (British Columbia) redneck who would take a chainsaw to anybody to get to the truth of the matter. Leslie says Russell, who rode mountain bikes and did motocross, once smacked a tree going 60 mph, ripping his right hand off. Though the appendage was sewed back on, Russell became impatient with the cast, removing it early, leaving his hand permanently cockeyed. Another time, Russell traveling cross country had someone pull a gun, sending a bullet through his right bicep and into his pectoral muscle. At team meetings, he would show off the scars. 

Larger than life. 

Russell delivering at the first international Rhino, Hale Creek, British Columbia, 1994.

Leslie was present the day that Rick Russell passed away. Russell – who had been working in the States for the Institute – had just bought an RV and was having lunch with men in Oakland. He said he had to retrieve something from the RV but didn’t return in a timely manner. When he was found, he was laying on the walkway, a victim of a stroke. 

Back in a Vancouver hospital, Leslie held guard at the door and on call for the men. Though Russell appeared to be improving as of Christmas 1994, by the next day it was clear he was not going to make it. 

Leslie recounts: “With one hand on his forehead, and another on his heart, I told him, ‘Hey man, from all the men, thank you for all you did. Goodbye.’ I kissed him on the forehead, walked out into the next room where 20 people were waiting. The doctor followed right behind me and said, ‘I’m sorry, he’s gone.’”

Rick Russell passed on December 26, 1994, at the age of 51, survived by his wife Janice and her daughter. There were three funerals for Russell – in Vancouver, in the Bay Area and in New England – with 600 guests in attendance at each. 

Said Leslie, “When Rick died, we lost a catalyst for growth, and though we survived as a region for some time, the numbers did taper off pretty quick.” 

Russell’s region in Vancouver BC, once a burgeoning and growing circle in his time, steadily shrunk in size after his death, ultimately being dissolved, in heartbreak style, by the Sterling Institute in 1998.

Said Leslie: “During an exercise in the circle, I proclaimed, ‘I will keep the spirit of Rick Russell alive through his love of men, the truth and community.’ He lived for the men, truth and community.” 

Russell was a loved man who deeply loved the men. 


The Award

Upon the plaque for the Rick Russell Award is printed these words: “In recognition and honor of commitment, relationship and value in service to thousands of families.”

The award was created in 2004 by Michael Fowlkes, then MDI President, who wanted a recognition program to acknowledge the men in the organization. At the time Mitch Desser – the International Membership Manager who was close with Russell – mentioned, “What if we do the Rick Russell award?” The recognition program originally started out with three awards, also including “The Hall of Legacy” and “The Hall of Honor.”

The Rick Russell award is given for heart. The recipient of this award is a man who is recognized not so much for the jobs and titles he has held, but rather for the way he has held them. It is a deeply personal man who is rich in quality relationships with many men. The gold standard example of the behavior is the namesake.

It is often awarded to a man or men at an Internationals gathering.

The recipient’s name is added to the award permanently, with the actual award being handed off to the following year’s recipient.

The recipient is selected by a committee comprised of International leadership, including the current MDI President.


The Honored

The 2023 Year – Honored Men:

Through the Years:

2004 – Joe Copp
2005 – Scott Bye
2005 – Rich O’Keeffe
2006 – Len Guida
2007 – Michael Fowlkes
2008 – Ronald Tremblay
2009 – Kurt Thorne
2010 – Matt Lyons
2010 – Geoff Tomlinson
2011 – Howard Spierer
2012 – David Turk
2013 – Charles Gjers
2014 – Bob Irwin
2015 – None
2016 – Sandy Peisner
2017 – Olaf Krop
2018 – Stan Snow
2019 – None
2020 – Denis Moreau
2021 – Greg Aldrich
2022 – None
2023 – Jim Ellis
2023 – Dave Smith

3 thoughts on “Rick Russell – The Man and the Award”

  1. I was Devastated when I found him he was on my Mens team we would go to Tahoe on a drop of a hat on weekends

  2. I like what all has been written about Rick, but I have a minor correction. The night Rick was shot he was on his way back to the Oakland Home office from an evening at Alvin (Flash) Cllier’s house. He had gotten lost and ended up in probably the worst part of Oakland. Rick being the man he was stopped twice to try and get directions, once to ask a couple of the local girls of the evening and then to ask a couple of guys who decided they wanted to rob him. He stuck up his hand to ward off the gun and floored the car. The bullet went through his hand into his side. He did truly love to show off his wounds. My wife Anne Figone was very close to Rick and His passing is something that still hurts… Rest in piece big guy… Lou Figone

  3. R.I.P. I remember Rick from the Vancouver divisional region I first met Rick in Bono’s restaurant in Vancouver that was where I signed up for the sterling men’s weekend we developed a relationship together he worked at the Vancouver general hospital hyperbaric unit I would visit and he would teach me about how the unit worked he also lived on a sail boat with his wife and daughter I remember the time he took me out aboard and we motored to Friday harbour he showed me all about boating it was pitch black out as we were coming back and Rick said take the wheel he said you’re on watch he was going to lie down and have a nap what a great experience it was aboard his boat and
    Getting to know him and his family and do the sterling men’s weekend it was an experience I will never forget

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