RUSSELL E. “Rusty Earl” Roy
Russell E. “Rusty Earl” Roy, 77, died at 7:45 a.m., Saturday, May 4, 2013, at Countryside Convalescent Home. Although he lived at the Home for seven years, he was a lifelong resident of Jamestown, Pennsylvania.
Russell was born February 7, 1936, in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, to King C. and Minnie B. Wiser Roy.
A memorial service was held for Russell on May 25th at the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Church in Jamestown.
It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Entering Russell E. Roy’s soul, however, requires a different route.
Russell, a. k. a. Rusty and Russ, opens the window to his soul through poetic writing.
He began writing poems when his sister Alice Hoover, Mercer, asked him to write a table blessing for her bowling banquet. Although he wanted to help his sister he felt uncomfortable fulfilling her request because he opposes serving alcoholic beverages at bowling alleys. His way of helping Alice without compromising his own values was to write an appropriate allegorical poem, The Final Frame, through which he began opening the window to his soul.
Russ’s writing method is unique. He bypasses the common writing tools—pen and paper, typewriter and computer. Instead, he picks up a micro-cassette recorder, lays on his back and recites individual lines on tape, playing them back for review and editing.
“It’s really not difficult” he claims, demonstrating his technique.
Russ, an albino, started life with a very poor grade of traveling vision. In childhood, his left eye lost sight when it was accidentally hit with a fishing pole. Cataract surgery at the age of 18 cost him his right eye—his doctors were unaware albinos have thinner viscosity of eye fluids.
Russ, the seventh of Minnie Roy’s nine pregnancies, always lived in the family home where he was born. His mother sent his father to fetch the doctor when her labor started. Returning to a lusty, newborn howl, he said, “We’re too late.”
His Jamestown Elementary School teachers gave Russ special care, helping him when he couldn’t see the blackboard. In fifth grade he attended Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind in Pittsburgh.
He was expelled at Thanksgiving in seventh grade. It took five years to know why.
The school note given his parents explained he had misbehaved. No one tried solving the problem; Russ felt they only saw the degrading side of his behavior.
“I could see later on as a Christian they were 1000% wrong,” he said. “They didn’t see things could be different. What did they care I would be illiterate?”
He wishes they had provided counseling.
At 18, Roy went to Philadelphia for five months, learning cane travel.
“They suggested I have cataract surgery. It was a mistake I wish I had never made,” Roy said.
Totally losing his sight was traumatic for Russ. After he went out drinking with friends, he woke with two problems: blindness and a hangover.
“I don’t recall being in a depressed state. Through everything I never blamed God,” he said.
After Russ returned to Jamestown he heard about an evangelist who was visiting Reynolds, Pennsylvania.
“I don’t know what possessed me, but I wanted to go hear this man. The night before, standing in the kitchen shaving, I told my brother I had a feeling if I listened to that preacher something would happen to me.”
The next morning Roy used the most hateful, rebellious, shameful language.
“The devil was having the last fling. He had charge of my life for 19 years and didn’t want to lose control.”
Although Roy doesn’t describe his family as Christian, they did attend church. A member of State Line United Methodist Church suggested the Wesleyan Methodist Church might better serve his needs. He became a loyal member there.
Living a Christian life had major struggles for Russ. The first began on November 13, 1963, when he entered a short-lived marriage to Maisie Brody. Not believing in divorce or remarriage, he’s remained separated since.
“I would like to enjoy the benefits of marriage but feel it would be spiritually impossible.”
Christianity’s second challenge concerned his mother.
Being a sensitive child Russ felt his mother deprived him of appropriate parental affection.
“If I live to be 1000, I will never forget the night a friend asked me if I forgave her” Roy said. “I thought I had, but it was with my head. This question made me realize my forgiveness wasn’t complete.
“I had to realize she was not malicious, but did all she could. When I understood why she did what she did—she was the oldest of nine children, had lots of work dumped on her and no affection herself, so what could she know?
“I don’t think my mother ever really wanted all the children she had,” said Roy, “especially her six Albino children, perhaps because she knew they faced added life burdens.”
“She wasn’t affectionate to me and I happened to need it. In 55 years I can remember kissing Mom once. Now I’m saying, perhaps she didn’t know better. I’ve seen things so much more clearly.
“I had to be able to say, Mom, forgive me—she wasn’t around, and probably wouldn’t understand, but God knew. After that night I felt free, finally forgiving her for what I considered shortcomings.”
In 1969, age 39, Russ’s right eye was removed due to ulceration. Soon he lost his left eye due to discoloration, and now uses artificial eyes.
He said that he prayed for healing three times before his eye removal, but God chose not to return his sight.
“I want to use you like you are,” God said.
Interestingly, he retains color and light perception in his right optic nerve.
Russ takes his blindness in stride, believing it can glorify God.
“God closed the vision door and opened a door of deep faith, with the bonus of developing my gift of poetry.”
A major part of Russ’s heritage came from his father, King Roy, an albino who worked with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus and wove stories of Houdini and other circus greats into the fabric of the Roy family.
Russ began writing poetry in his early 20’s.
“I confess I’ve lost some I wanted to keep and others that were probably X-rated because I wasn’t a Christian.”
He believes a person’s home life and emotional makeup affects their talent, whether it is poetry, art, storytelling, etc., and how that talent is expressed.
He learned Braille but he didn’t keep up with it.
“I should have,” he said, “but the microphone and tape recorder are the only way to go.”
He leaves some mistakes on tape, authorizing Hoover to correct them in transcription. He forgets a poem once it’s recorded, unless it’s special.
“I don’t have to memorize them—they are secure on tape.”
In composing poetry, Russ visualizes material mentally, becoming involved with and seeing the character in his mind.
“The expression of poetry puts together in color what you want to say,” he said. He dislikes free verse, claiming it “doesn’t make sense if it doesn’t rhyme,” and he doesn’t understand “why everybody doesn’t like poetry.”
He favors acrostic poems, his favorite being The Alcoholic’s Alphabet.
Ideas come to Russ in different ways.
“We had to come up with something for a Thanksgiving talent show at church. I thought ‘Everyone is celebrating, but what does a turkey have to celebrate? He knows he’s going to die!’” His poem, The Blue Turkey, evolved from this thought.
People make special requests, too, which he tries to meet.
Roy created A’nonniemouse, a lovable rascal, a scoundral. This character, inspired by a friend in October 1994 through word play on anonymous, has visited each church in Jamestown, wreaking havoc wherever he goes.
In 1997, while visiting Wesley United Methodist Church in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, Russ recited, from memory, three of his favorite poems written by other poets: A Touch of the Masters Hand, author unknown, America for Me by Henry Van Dyke, and Flanders Field.
“I’ll hand a signed book to a child, with a pen saying A’nonniemouse, and instruct them to cross the t and dot the i.”
If God grants his wish, Russ promises Him more than 10% of the profits.
Russ had two other dreams: to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and to visit Forest Lawn Cemetery.
“It would be interesting to read the gravestones, the inscriptions with epitaths.”
Russ confidently maneuvered around Jamestown, meeting friends daily for coffee, offering support to hurting persons and visiting his church. He didn’t always use a cane, but blindness does create hazards in getting around. In September 19997 he tripped over a bike, landed on a cement rail, cut his eye and needed ten stitches. He often greeted trees eye to eye.
He claimed without blindness being a hobo would have been the way to live.
Lacking vision he “read” the entire scripture more than 60 times.
“People seeing my life, the way I live as a blind person, how much I do, are amazed. I give the Lord credit. It would be selfish to do otherwise. My blindness opens a door to talk about God.”