By Donna Parker
Russell Hair ’58 is a Southern gentleman with a story. This one is about his walk on St. Simons Island, Ga., with two Cavalier King Charles spaniels and one Yorkshire “terror.”
“This morning it was 62 degrees and I was barefoot on the beach with the dogs,” he reflects with a smile in his voice. “Even when the Yankees move down here, they fall into this wonderful, slow Southern pace and stop all that tearing around.”
That’s why it comes as a shock when Russell reveals his former life as assistant director for medical operations at NASA during the Apollo and Gemini missions.
“I was just so much a part of that pioneering spirit. So often we would look at each other and think, ‘is this going to work?’ I’ve never seen teamwork like that accomplish something so spectacular!”
The teamwork spilled into “real life” for the Apollo team, which lived in the same neighborhood and enjoyed backyard get-togethers. Russell forged a close bond with the man who would one day announce, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”
“When Neil (Armstrong) walked on the moon, I sat there in Mission Control and stared at the monitor,” muses Russell, with awe.
“Through the years, I’ve enjoyed our friendship very much. Neil is extremely private but can be very funny when he wants to be.”
It must have helped to have a sense of humor when Armstrong was pulling 5 G’s at the hands of Russell, who specialized in rapid acceleration and oxygen deprivation.
Russell was fresh out of the Korean conflict when he studied biology at Trinity, at that time a tiny campus boasting only six buildings. Yet Russell praises dedicated professors such as Albert Herff-Beze, a.k.a. “Beezie.”
“He became a very dear friend of mine, along with Mrs. George Coates,” says this scientist who managed to journey “to infinity and beyond,” only to return to his Georgia roots.
“Even as a kid, when I went away to make a living, in the back of my mind, I knew I’d come back.”
“Making a living” seem like modest words from this alumnus awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 1969 for his instrumental role in putting a man on the moon.