St. Pete, Orlando lose community activist

By : Tom Dyer
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During more than 20 years in Orlando, Russ Crumley made indelible contributions to the LGBT community. When he moved to St. Petersburg in 2002, that city became the beneficiary of his boundless energy, creativity and passion for good times and good works.

Crumley died unexpectedly on July 24 at his home in the Old Southeast neighborhood. The cause of death was cardiac arrest. He is survived by his husband, George Spence.

RussCrumly“We lost a good one,” said Darden Rice, a civic leader and candidate for St. Pete City Council.

Crumley was a marketing/training/development specialist, author, activist and community organizer. His passions were the arts, the environment, neighborhoods and people.

He attended Stetson University, where he was president of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. After moving to Orlando, he quickly became a recognizable figure in the city’s burgeoning LGBT community.

He threw an annual Easter Bonnet Party that attracted hundreds to his Thornton Park home, culminating in a promenade down Washington St. and through Dexter’s. In 1997, he enlisted a handful of friends and founded the Central Florida Softball League, which now boasts more than 30 teams.

In 1998 and 1999 Crumley produced Beachfest, a relaxed two-day circuit-type event that attracted thousands to Daytona Beach. Also in 1998, he provided key support when Watermark obtained permission to hang rainbow flags throughout downtown Orlando, making national news.

“Russ was a social mad man,” said his friend, Chris Bertoch. “He was adept at weaving communities together and fostering friendships while always wringing fun out of anything and everything.”

Crumley followed a job to Tampa Bay in 2002, and grew enamored with St. Petersburg’s beauty, relaxed pace, cultural offerings and close neighborhoods. He bought a home in Old Southeast, and quickly became involved in the neighborhood association.

That’s when Crumley also met and fell in love with George Spence. He became a devoted step-dad to Spence’s four children, and in his last decade often told friends he had the family he’d always wanted. According to Crumley’s close friend, Vince Koehle, visitors often commented on the warmth of their home.

“Russ and George were in love, and that love spilled over onto their guests,” Koehle said.

While grieving his husband’s death, Spence experienced frustrations familiar to survivors in same-sex couples throughout Florida, including lack of legal authority to make funeral arrangements.

“In memory of Russ, please show your support for marriage equality in Florida by volunteering time, donating money or simply contacting your lawmakers,” Spence wrote on Facebook. “As Russ would push all of us to do, take one more step beyond your comfort level.”

In addition to Spence, Crumley is survived by: his mother, Carol Jean Woodall; his step-children, George Alexander, Andrew, Ethan and Libby; his nieces, Sarah, Erin and Megan, and nephew, Samuel; and his beloved dogs Lulu and Gracie.

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