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Former Volusia County Schools Superintendent James “Tom” Russell has died after contracting COVID-19 in November.

Russell began a quarantine period on Nov. 9 after coming into contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. He later tested positive on Nov. 16.

“Allow me to be blunt this is nothing like the flu! Covid wrecks the body in so many ways and never the same way twice,” Russell said in a post on social media Nov. 18.

School Board Member Linda Cuthbert had kind words for her former colleague.

“Tom Russell was beloved by everyone who met him. He emanated a friendly acceptance to each individual to whom he spoke,” she said in an email to The Beacon. “He believed in the innate ability that every single student could achieve his/her goals. I was blessed to get to really know him, to work alongside him during times of celebration, as well as challenging times.”

Cuthbert continued, “He possessed an educator’s pure heart! A hole has been left in all of our hearts, mine especially, because I admired him so very much.I will miss him. I will always treasure our work together but he now has the angels to comfort him.”

Russell served a total of 28 years in the Volusia County school system in a variety of capacities, including teacher and principal before his appointment to school superintendent.

Russell served a three-year term in the top administrative spot in the district before his contract was terminated one year-and-two-months early. Then-freshman School Board Members Ruben Colón and Jamie Haynes led the push for his early termination after a revelation that the school district was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

After his tenure in Volusia County, Russell went on to serve as principal of Flagler Palm Coast High School.

In a release on the Flagler Schools website, Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt said, “Tom was a valued member of our district, a person everyone leaned on for advice and counsel. He was quick with a smile and word of encouragement. He had the ability to bring calm to the most hectic moments.”

Volusia County Schools had a similar comment: “He was a kind and compassionate educator, leader, and friend. He will be greatly missed here in Volusia County,” the release reads. “Our deepest condolences go out to his wife, Julie, his children, and grandchildren, as well as the many colleagues and friends who worked with him over the years. Please keep the Russell family in your thoughts in the coming days.”

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