Russell James Cheetham | Obituary

Russell James Cheetham passed away peacefully surrounded by family at his home in Mercer Island, Washington, U.S.A. on September 26, 2021 following a short but valiant battle with cancer.

Russ was born October 12, 1939 in Bankstown, N.S.W., Australia, the only child of Frederick and Ina Cheetham. After graduating from Yanco Agricultural High School, Russ became the first person in his family to attend university.

He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Agricultural Science from the University of Sydney. In 1961, Russ was granted an Agricultural Cadetship by the Australian government which resulted in a job in Papua New Guinea as an Agricultural Officer.

In 1962, Russ married his childhood love, Fay Dyason, and took his bride back to Papua New Guinea. In 1966, Russ was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and moved with Fay to Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A. where he earned his Master of Arts in Economics and PhD in Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Russ was recruited by the World Bank in Washington, D.C. in 1969. He spent the next 27 years working for the World Bank, ultimately retiring as a Vice President. During his remarkable career, he provided significant leadership, policy advice and analysis in a variety of roles, including as a Project Advisor to the Philippines government, Director of the World Bank Resident Office in Indonesia, Director of the South Asia Country Programs, Director of the Country Department-Asia Region, Director of the Soviet Union Country Program, establishing the first operational mission to Moscow in early 1991, Director of Europe, Middle East and North Africa Region, Director of Europe and Central Asia Region, and in 1994, World Bank Vice President for the East Asia and Pacific Region, where he managed relations with 24 member governments and lending operations of $25 billion.

During his tenure with the World Bank, Russ and Fay lived in the Philippines, Indonesia and the Soviet Union. In 1985, President Suharto of Indonesia conferred upon Russell the Order of the Bintang Jasa Pratama Star of Service for his contributions to the Republic of Indonesia. Russ was renowned for his keen powers of analysis, attention to detail, and fostering diversity of thought. As he worked to improve the quality of life around the world, he authored numerous professional publications and also mentored many young professionals.

Following retirement from the World Bank in 1996, Russ and Fay moved to Seattle, Washington where they established a private consulting practice. For the next 23 years, Russ continued his work with Governments of developing countries, including Timor-Leste. As Senior Consultant to the African Development Bank in Tunisia, he guided numerous teams in the design and preparation of regional, country and sectoral strategies for Burundi, Zimbabwe and South Sudan and advised on the Bank Group’s Decentralization strategy across the African Continent. He was also a frequent guest lecturer for universities and many organizations. Russ and Fay had a passion for travel, especially on cruises. Their work and personal explorations took them to all seven continents and more than 125 countries. He also was an avid reader and loved gardening, stamp collecting, genealogy and spending time with his family.

Russ and Fay were married for almost 60 years. He is survived by his wife, Fay, their two daughters Debbie McBee (and John) and Kim (and Scott), their five grandchildren Brian (and Yvette), Kelli, Patrick (and Jessica), Kylie, Ryan, and great-granddaughter Sydney.

A Celebration of Life was held on October 16th, and a Remembrance Event is planned on November 30th on Zoom by his World Bank colleagues. Russ will be greatly missed by his family, friends and colleagues around the world.