JoAnne Walker Russell, 88, passed away on September 21, reuniting in heaven with her love-at-first-sight and beloved husband of 68 years, Albert Barnard Russell, MD. A chance meeting on Pensacola Beach at age fourteen turned into a 75-year love story that could not stand separation as Jo passed 28 days after Barnard. Their 68-year marriage was defined by faith in God, devotion to each other, love for their family and care for their community
Jo was born in Pensacola, Florida, on November 30, 1930, the eldest child of William Douglas and Thelma Walker, a founding family of Gulf Breeze. The Walker family’s lives revolved around water – from boat building and sport fishing to commercial fishing with a fleet of shrimp boats. The family owned and operated Shady Shore Cottages and The Surf Club, a 1940s nightclub on the eastern shore of Santa Rosa Sound next to the Pensacola Beach bridge, which was built on land the family donated to the state. A true Florida girl, Jo loved being on the water. She knew how to bait a hook and catch the big ones. She never missed with a crab net and was an expert at running encircled mullet into a gill net while freeing the catfish. She could clean and cook any catch like a pro. The Walker family fish fries were famous as extended family gathered to catch and cook dinner using recipes passed down through generations.
Jo graduated from Pensacola High School, trained as a nurse at Huntington College and Sacred Heart Hospital. She married her Alabama sweetheart at age 20. They moved to New Orleans as Barnard attended Tulane Medical School and they raised their first daughter, Jett. After graduation, they moved to Fort Walton Beach where Barnard began his career at Magnolia Medical Clinic. Shortly thereafter, Barnard was drafted into the Navy and they relocated to Jacksonville for two years where they had their daughter, Caryn. Then, they moved to Louisiana for residency where they had their last precious daughter, Julee.
In 1960, the family returned to Fort Walton and Magnolia Medical Clinic where Jo began a busy life as a volunteer in Junior League, the Hospital Auxiliary, the American Cancer Society, and her daughters’ schools. Jo was a devoted partner to Barnard by supporting his personal and professional passions and creating a loving homelife for her girls.
Jo was an accomplished artist in oils, acrylics and watercolors, winning a People’s Choice Award for her painting, Breaking Wave. She was a talented seamstress; designing and sewing clothing for the entire family. Jo was an inventive and excellent cook. Her specialty dishes included gumbo and jambalaya, which people talked about years after tasting.
She loved interior design, flowers and traveling, which contributed to her exquisite sense of style as showcased in the interior and exterior of the home she helped design. Jo was an avid bird watcher and lifelong Audubon Society member. Wild birds from hummingbirds to Great Blue Herons, many she helped rescue, were backyard residents. Her koi fish pond and singing frogs have entertained the neighborhood for years.
Jo’s greatest love was family. She is survived by three daughters, Jett Tanner and her husband, Steven, Caryn Whitney and her husband, Jim, and Julee Dardeau; four grandchildren, Chris Tanner and his wife, Laura, Walker Tanner and his wife, Massiel, Jourdan Bennett and her husband, Jeff, and Shane Whitney; four great-grandchildren, Sutton, Thatcher, Harrison, and Natalie Tanner. Jo is also survived by her brother, James Arnold Walker and wife, Ginny; and beloved nieces, nephews and their children.
The Russell family expresses gratitude for the skilled and compassionate care Jo received by Dr. Henry Hsiang and the 4th floor nursing staff at FWB Medical Center. They have been especially blessed by the loving care of Pearl King and Joanne Gartman.
Services will be held on Saturday, September 28, 2019. The visitation begins at 10 a.m. with the funeral service following at 11 a.m. at Davis Watkins Funeral Home, 113 NE Racetrack Road, Fort Walton Beach, FL. An escorted processional to the burial at Beal Memorial Cemetery will be followed by a reception to celebrate JoAnne’s life with her family and friends.
Memorial donations may be made to the American Cancer Society, Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, or Hope Matters.