DULUTH - Barb Russ, a former Duluth city councilor known for her no-nonsense ways and human rights advocacy work, died Monday morning of natural causes, according to her family. She was 74.
Russ, a former St. Louis County attorney who also served on the board of several local nonprofit organizations, was elected as the at-large city councilor in 2013 and was re-elected in 2017. She stepped down in 2020, after more than five years, citing health concerns unrelated to COVID-19.
In leaving her position, she said that she would continue to find ways to serve the community.
"During my tenure, I have fought hard to help the homeless and underprivileged members of our community," she said at the time. "I have worked to strengthen city services and to make our community a better place to live."
Russ's husband, Neil Glazman, said in a statement that she was proud of the impacts she made.
"She always looked out for others and worked hard to create policies that served our community's homeless and underprivileged members," he said. "She was a fierce advocate for others and would want to be remembered that way."
Terese Tomanek was appointed to finish Russ' term and then sought the former councilor's approval before running for the at-large position.
"We sat on the porch and had some tears and had some laughs and she gave me her blessing," said Tomanek.
Russ taught her not only about tax increment financing, but also the level of homework that goes into being an at-large councilor, she said.
Joel Sipress sat next to Russ for much of their time together on the City Council — which leads to a level closeness, he said. She would sometimes lean toward him mid-meeting, he recalled, and deliver well-received observations.
"She had a wry and wicked sense of humor," he said. "She was really passionate about the work, especially issues of poverty."
City Councilor Gary Anderson remembered Russ as valuing honesty and transparency.
"Barb was concerned about the underdog," Anderson said. "That's old-school language, but Barb was old-school. She cared about people, she cared about using her strengths and her power to do what she could to help other people."
St. Louis County Attorney Kimberly Maki said Russ had an immense base of knowledge ranging from municipal and county law, to tax-forfeited land practices and procurement policies. The county still refers to legal research and analysis Russ did decades ago, according to Maki.
"On a personal note, she welcomed me and was always available to answer my questions and dispense advice whenever I reached out to her for assistance," she said. "She was unabashed in her convictions, yet kind and measured in her comportment."
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson recalled in a Facebook post that she had been sworn in to her leadership role for just 90 minutes when Russ approached her with information about the Minnesota Race & Equity Cohort. Larson, who said she was feeling overwhelmed, asked for a few days to look at it.
"Deadline to sign up is today," Larson said Russ told her, adding with a laugh: "Should I bring a council resolution forward to help encourage this?"
"Nope. You do not need to bring that forward," Larson said. "Message received."
The conversation, Larson said, was "very Barb."
"Direct, clear and forward thinking," Larson said. "Infused with humor. Leading with values."