Russell shares ‘Aunt Mary’s’ story, meaning of Christmas
QUEENSTOWN — Thirty years ago, a 15-minute encounter with an elderly Kent Island woman changed Neill G. Russell’s life and led him to the true meaning of Christmas.
It’s a true life Christmas story, and Russell has shared it before, but with this being the 30th anniversary of the meeting, he was inspired to share his story again — this time with a much broader audience through the creation of a website, shegaveme more.com.
Russell met “Aunt Mary” Riley of Batts Neck in 1988, just one week before Christmas when he and his son Bill were delivering food baskets from Kent Island United Methodist Church; it was the last stop on their route. Russell lived in Stevensville then, but has since moved to Queenstown.
They had trouble finding the house, he recalled, and had to ask a neighbor who directed them to a small, wooden house with a tarpapered roof — “really a shack,” Russell said.
She welcomed them, saying, “Thank you, Jesus. God bless. God bless.”
“Aunt Mar y” was a small, elderly woman crippled by arthritis and confined to a wheelchair; the extent of modern conveniences in her one-room house were an old radio and her Bible, Russell said.
“She had nothing by the world’s standards, but she was the happiest person I ever met,” he recalled. “She changed my life.”
She had the one thing that mattered, he said.
“There was such a peace, such a glow about her,” Russell recalled. “I gave her a basket of food, but she gave me so much more. She gave me the true meaning of Christmas. She gave me Jesus. With gnarled hands, she opened her Bible and read aloud John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’”
That meeting lead Russell to giving his life to Christ a few weeks later.
“What she had is what I have now,” Russell said. “I have total peace. My passion is to take what she had and spread that gift. The Christmas present she gave me is Jesus.”
Russell said he thought about “Aunt Mary” often after that. He read in the Bay Times when a community development block grant provided a trailer with indoor plumbing to replace her shack. And then he read about her murder in the spring of 1990. A neighbor boy high on crack cocaine stabbed her to death when she refused to give him money to buy more drugs.
Russell attended the funeral hoping to share how “Aunt Mary” touched his life. But she was so loved by the community that the church was overflowing and he had to remain outside on the steps.
The Rev. Robert Brown, pastor at Ezion United Methodist Church on Batts Neck Road for 22 years, where “Aunt Mary” attended, said, “Mary Riley was a gracious lady, a beautiful lady.”
Although she died tragically, Brown said he was sure “Aunt Mary” would have words of forgiveness for the person who took her life.
“She was a very loving, kind person, always helping. She loved her church,” Brown said.
That December, Russell was moved to write a poem about how his encounter with “Aunt Mary” had touched his life. It was 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 19, 1990. “I sat down and wrote a 600 word poem in about five minutes,” he said.
He sent the poem to newspapers all over the country. Several local newspapers picked it up and wrote about it.
In 2004, Russell daughter Renee inspired him to turn the poem into a song.
Three weeks later, Russell’s song, “She Gave Me More,” arranged and performed by Christian recording artist, Simeon Amburgey of Kentucky, was played for the first time on an Annapolis radio station. With his song’s popularity rapidly rising, Russell next asked his friend Michael Francis of Centreville, a professional videographer, for help in turning the song into a video.
Now the story is being told through a website.
“God has given me the ability to make graphics,” he said, and he has put those skills to work in creating a website to spread “Aunt Mary’s” story and message of God’s love.
The poem, the song, and the video are all available on the website, shegavememore.com.
Russell said he was thrilled with the website’s reception. In just two days, 1,100 hundred people had viewed it and shared it on Facebook for others to see. “It’s reaching the world,” he said.
Russell, a science teacher at Annapolis High School, recently retired after 45 years, and plans to continue writing.
He said next project is putting all the science into Genesis Chapter 1, writing as if to an eighth grade science class. And he’s working on a second health book, having published his first last year.
NEILL G. RUSSELL