Have you ever rowed in a boat and wondered who it is named after? Invariably, boats are named after people in recognition of their contributions to the sport of rowing, with particular emphasis on touring.

Here’s a little background on the one and only Betty Russell.

Betty Russell and Jim Mercer
Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Russell spent 65 years on the rowing scene – joining the Philadelphia Women’s Rowing Club when she was 17 (bringing the club’s membership to seven). It was rare for women to row in those days and she travelled up and down the coast to compete. She won many races while rowing in Philadelphia including one that her five-week old son watched from the sidelines.

Betty married Jack Russell (1952 Helsinki Olympic rower) who was coaching in Philadelphia and moved to Toronto when she was in her early 20’s. She was hired as a coach at the Argonaut Rowing Club only to discover that as a female, she wasn’t allowed on the dock, much less able to row! Years later, she heard of women rowers at Don Rowing Club (DRC) and promptly joined.
Circa 1940 Philadelphia Wormen’s Rowing Club.  Betty Russell in mid row with hat.

During her rowing career, Betty rowed with Ernestine Bayer, known as the ‘Mother of U.S. Women’s Rowing’, and Jack Kelly, brother of Princess Grace of Monaco. ‘Betty was really passionate about rowing’, as recalled by former DRC and Olympic coach Fred Loek, who knew Russell for more than 20 years. ‘She rowed daily well into her late years, motivating everyone around her, especially young women who took up the sport.
Betty returned to rowing when she was 65 and even after she suffered multiple strokes in the late ‘80’s, she was back on the water. A speech impairment didn’t stop her from coxing and loss of her peripheral vision didn’t stop her from bowing a double at the Head of the Trent. She also won gold at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in St. Catharines in 1996, pairing with long-time rowing companion Lynda Dundas (DRC).

Betty has four rowing sculls named after her – one in Philadelphia; one in Naples, Florida where, in 1993 she was one of the founding members of the Naples Rowing Club and 2 in Ontario. We at Ontario Adventure Rowing are honoured to have one of these.

Information obtained from Nancy Sweete (DRC) and Betty’s obituary (Mississauga.com) and thank you to Doug Russell (her son) and Goca Leble for the photos.