Tributes paid to ‘champion boxer and top class photographer’ Hugh Russell

Russell, who won bronze medals at the 1978 Commonwealth Games and the 1980 Olympics, has died aged 63.

Tributes have been paid to “champion boxer and top class photographer” Hugh Russell.

The 63-year-old died in the early hours of Friday following an illness.

Russell made his name in the boxing ring as a young man, winning bronze medals at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton and the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, both in the flyweight division.

As a professional he claimed British bantamweight and flyweight titles.

Affectionately known as “Little Red”, Russell went on to forge an award-winning career as a press photographer at the Irish News.

Among his best-known photographs was one of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four celebrating with supporters after walking free from prison in 1989 following the quashing of his wrongful conviction as an IRA bomber.

Russell was at the forefront of news reporting, capturing images across decades of the Troubles, peace process and politics in Northern Ireland.

The County Antrim Boxing Board described Russell as a “legend of the sport”.

They recalled the start of his career at Holy Family Golden Gloves in Belfast, and claiming “innumerable Antrim, Ulster and Irish titles as he rose to Senior Elite”.

“He boxed for Northern Ireland at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Canada, and came home with bronze. It was in the 1980 Olympics that be became, at that time, Ireland’s 6th Olympic boxing medallist,” they said.

“Hugh moved on to work as a multi-award winning press photographer, latterly with the Irish News.

“He was also a chief official in the British Boxing Board of Control, overseeing many big fight nights in Belfast. In 2019 he was inducted into the Belfast City Council sporting hall of fame.

“Following Hugh’s sad passing overnight, tributes are being paid across the world of Irish boxing.

“Hugh will be fondly remembered by all in the sport in Ireland and will be sadly missed.”

Niall O’Carroll, chair of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) board of directors, said: “My first two memories of boxing as a kid were Ali fighting Larry Holmes and Hugh winning his bronze medal. Especially the Russian announcer pronouncing his name.

“Hugh was the man who started the modern success of Irish Olympic boxing. His passing is very sad news – IABA extends its deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Irish News sports editor Paul McConville said he was “absolutely devastated” by the loss.

“Champion boxer and top class photographer but a friend and colleague who was always on hand to lend some sage advice or lighten the mood with a wise crack and that cheeky grin. RIP Champ,” he posted on the social media platform X, previously known as Twitter.

North Belfast MP John Finucane said Russell was “widely liked and respected”.

“Very sad to hear the news that Hugh Russell has passed away after a short illness. Whether it was through his work at the Irish News or as a huge figure in the boxing world, Hugh was widely liked & respected. A true gentleman, my thoughts are with his wife Kathleen & all his family & friends,” he posted on X.

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