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In Memoriam: Gerald Russello

November 9th, 2021 | 4 min read

By Susannah Black Roberts

Gerald Russello (July 27, 1971-November 7, 2021) graduated from Georgetown in 1992, and got his JD from New York University Law School in 1996. He served as a managing director in the legal department of Bear, Stearns & Co., and then went on to have a successful legal practice at Sidley Austin, where he mentored many young lawyers; he also served as an adjunct professor of the Benjamin N. Cardozo school of law, where he taught securities litigation and enforcement. A born-and-bred New Yorker, he made his home in Pelham, just outside the City. He died after a battle with cancer, and is survived by his wife, Alexandra, his daughters Georgia and Emma, and his son William.

Gerald was also the editor of The University Bookman, one of the publications associated with the Russell Kirk Center, and in this capacity was a sort of statesman – he did not live long enough to be an elder statesman – of Catholic letters. He wrote for such publications as First Things, The Imaginative Conservative, The Claremont Review of Books, Law & Liberty, and more. He was also the author of The Postmodern Imagination of Russell Kirk (University of Missouri Press, 2007).

“Gerald was first introduced to my dad’s writings by John Connelly, his teacher at Regis High School,” Cecilia Kirk Nelson, Russell Kirk’s daughter, told me

“He later wrote to my dad offering to write reviews for The Bookman an offer which was promptly accepted. In 1995, he visited the Kirk Center to do research for his book. Over the years, Gerald’s excellent understanding of conservatism, his literary interests and abilities, and his good cheer came to the forefront of the many circles in which he was involved. So when my husband Jeff (who was editor of the UB at the time) was looking for a new editor for The Bookman, he asked Gerald to take the role. Gerald’s steadfast dedication to The Bookman bore fruit in an respected journal of ideas and culture as well as in the lives of many reviewers and readers. We will miss him greatly.”

He was a participant-spectator in many intra-Catholic and intra-conservative debates, managing somehow to be both non-wishy washy and also almost universally beloved. Not sure how he managed that, to be honest. I think it had to do with him being… not open-minded, not in the way Chesterton criticized; having been given truth, he held on to it with loyalty and rigor, always trying to catch sight of more of its facets but open-hearted, and endlessly curious, both about ideas and about people.

Gerald was also, proudly, a Dad, both actually and spiritually. One of the glorious tribe of Dads, relentlessly uncool, dedicated to his children and his wife; a substantial portion of the conversations I had with him had to do not with Weird Christian Ideological Drama but with his children. He wanted them to know the joy he had in Catholicism, in Christ; he wanted to know how to give them the taste for the intellectual world he loved, but much much more, for the incarnate Lord he worshipped and who had given him life.

The first time I met Gerald, we’d been DMing for a while and decided that it was silly to not actually meet in person; we were not just Twitter people; we were New Yorkers, after all. So we ended up in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel, in honor of Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott and all those classic figures of New York scribbling life. The Algonquin became a standard place to meet up, although we’d also run into each other at various other conservaworld/Christian/journalistish things.

He was always a bit tricky to get hold of for evening things, because evenings, for the most part, belonged to his family in classic Dad fashion, he commuted from the suburbs.

He had such relish in being a member of the subversive postliberal/traddish intellectual subculture; he had the instincts of a schemer; his schemes were all things like promoting his friends’ books and getting people internships and fostering excellent conversations. He had a parallel glee in being a sort of a normie married-with-kids suburbanite among the intellectually exotic, or at least extremely bespoke, Manhattan (and Too Online) circles he inhabited. But he wasn’t a normie, not really.

He was convinced that if the world was going to be won for Christ and the culture was going to be pillaged back for the cause of humane sanity, that the publication and successful launch of hardcover books, and the rediscovery of old ones, was going to be a major part of how that would happen. He had a Robert Giroux-like faith in and commitment to the world of the book to the Republic of Letters, one might say, although he might well insist on recasting it as a restored Holy Roman Empire of letters. (I’ve only just found out that Giroux also went to Regis — what IS it about these Regis men, anyway?) He was convinced that this … this writing and reading and talking and arguing and institution-building and movement-making, and these friendships we build, are not just fun but important; that this is part of the work of carrying on the world.

Kind-hearted, with a mile-wide streak of mischief, Gerald took so much joy in Christ and in Catholicism. A cradle Catholic, he had the zeal and delight of a convert. It never got old for him; he was never tempted to take reality for granted. He also deeply enjoyed being pretty darn ethnic about his Catholicism he was Italian! And would remind you of that! but in a way that was a gateway into the universality, the catholicity, of the faith. He loved Italian Catholicism, he loved European Christendom; he never mistook those for the universal Kingdom of Christ.

I once told him that his Catholicism seemed to me like a room in his house that he had grown up in, but which kept being a gateway into something bigger and stranger, while still maintaining its homely familiarity. He wanted his daughters and his son to get that joy in Christ, and in the elaborate, excessive, complicated beauty of His church; of her art and her ideas; of her sculpture and poetry and jurisprudence; to catch the flavor of the intellectual and spiritual adventure he was on. He wanted everyone to.

He was funny and erudite and full of zest. I think he was pretty holy, too.

I will miss him.

I want those of us who were his friends to carry on in that spirit, in his honor, and carry forward the projects from which he was taken away too soon and carry forward, too, the big project of the Kingdom of God, the practical and intellectual and imaginative and hands-on scheme which will ultimately give us all back to each other, and in which none of our good work will be lost.

Susannah Black Roberts

Susannah Black Roberts is senior editor at Plough. She is a native Manhattanite. She and her husband, the theologian Alastair Roberts, split their time between Manhattan and the West Midlands of the UK.