Peggie Russell, a member of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's Innovation Team, passed away Tuesday evening.
Ms. Russell was most recently affiliated with the mayor's Gun Down program, which is designed to help reduce gun violence in the Bluff City.
According to relatives, Ms. Russell was rushed to an emergency room over the weekend after suffering complications from diabetes.
It's a regret he may harbor for a while, because Mayor Wharton never got the chance to say a proper goodbye to Ms. Russell.
"Just two weeks ago, I promoted Peggie to the best job, best in her estimate, in terms of how fulfilling it would be," Mayor Wharton said. "She left me. She left us. Without my ever having to hug her and say, 'Peggie, this job pays good. But, doggonit, I know you're going to do good.'"
Wharton was among many city hall employees reeling on Wednesday from the news that Ms. Russell, the newly appointed coordinator for the touted "Guns Down" program to stop gun violence among youth, had suddenly died Tuesday evening of complications from diabetes.
Ms. Russell had only recently turned 47. A teacher, lecturer and preacher, she was often chosen to spearhead programs and initiatives aimed at reaching out to wayward teens. From her involvement in collaborations such as Safe streets and defending childhood initiative to taking a rare spotlight role with a drug market project - where young criminal offenders were given a second chance only by facing up to what they'd done.
"They were shown video of the actual transactions and then they received a message from community residents," Ms. Russell said in a FOX13 News interview in 2010. "Community residents asked these individuals to please stop."
"She knew that once you sandblasted away all of the barnacles that many of our children face, barnacles not placed there by themselves, but barnacles of broken homes, illiteracy, being born to a teen mom," Mayor Wharton said. "Peggie knew that layer by layer, we needed to peel that away and it takes time. Peggie was like the mother to all of these initiatives."
When asked to define a legacy for the woman who he first hired while he headed the Shelby County Public Defenders Office, Mayor Wharton spoke of the mission Ms. Russell quietly dedicated most of her career to - the belief that with love and understanding those now considered the least of us can one day be transformed into the best of us.
"She would want us to say that when it comes to our children," Mayor Wharton said. "No matter how lost they may seem now. Never pass up the opportunity to try to grab one of them. Catch a falling star before it falls to the ground."
FOX13 News reporter Les Smith contributed to this report.
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