James Russell LEES

1951 - 2022

Complexe funéraire Aeterna
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Guestbook manager
Marri Lynn K

I had the privilege of working with Russell. He was such a special person. Kind, patient, and humble. He was very good at what he did and was devoted to doing his part well. His loss is deeply felt. I offer my sincerest condolences to all who will miss him the most.

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Madeleine Hart

My deepest sympathies to Russell’s family. He loved his daughters so much and spoke excitedly about them at any chance he could. Kindness and humour are the two aspects that come to mind when I think about him. He was a great friend, always willing to make him self available to chat. I’ll miss him greatly.

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Linda Nguyen

Please accept my warmest condolences. Russell made a difference in so many lives, including mine, even before I became a game writer. He was kind, supportive, funny, and an incredible ally. He'll be greatly missed.

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Ilsa Klinghoffer

It was 1977. I had just transferred to Boston University from studying in France and was assigned to live in the French House. As an actress "wannabe," and hoping to make friends, I auditioned for the play "Line" and got the only female role. My co-star was Russ Lees, and the rest was history.

We became the best of friends for 46 years. My brilliant friend (left and right brain) was perfect: A Mormon "mensch," a gifted playwright and gaming writer, a great musician and a spectacular father. I will never forget the joy you gave us all or your creative genius. You will live in my heart forever.

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Ilsa Klinghoffer

Dear Charlotte, Madeleine and Lisa; Jay Terry, Julie, Britta Paule and Brynn Friedrich; Mindy, Stan, Cheyney, Jay Branagan, Braden and McKay; and Becky (Bick) Priscilla,

We send you our deepest sympathies and most sincere condolences over the loss of your beloved father, husband, brother and uncle.

Our thoughts are with you.

With love, Ilsa Klinghoffer, Paul Dworin and Max Klinghoffer Dworin

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Eric Rothenberg

I had the great good fortune of having Russ as my college roommate in Boston in the 1970’s and later traveling with him through canyon country in his native Utah and all around Mexico. For all of his amazing talent Russ was an unassuming, humble man; but it’s the laughter we’ll miss the most. Our hearts go out to Lisa, Charlotte, Madeleine and all of his family.

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Cheyney Lindgren (niece)

Rusty went to Bordeaux this past November for work and took the train to Germany to visit us only weeks before we moved.  It was a tender mercy that he was able to come before we moved but it was ALL Rusty to make seeing family a priority.  He was so happy and beamed as he spoke of Charlotte and Madeleine.  We reminisced, laughed and cried.  His heart was so tender.  His heart may have failed him in the end but it never failed any one of us.

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Gabe Hunter-Bernstein

Russ was a good friend of mine at Boston University. He was a kind, gentle soul and brought warmth to those around him.

Gabe Hunter-Bernstein

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Michael Bernard

Like everyone else here I loved Russ. He was kind, warm, funny, talented, and always a joy to be around. I am so lucky to have known him. So lucky we were friends.

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Jay Webb

For me Uncle Rusty reflected the word "cool." He taught me how to juggle, and that was cool, he knew so many actors, directors, people from Saturday Night Live etc..., and that was cool. In New York we skipped out on my High school Marching Band trip we went all the way across New York to go to his favorite Coffee Shop. He always put family, and connections with people first. I will miss him. My heart goes out to everyone who is feeling his loss.

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Cheyney

Dee and I met Russ at American Stage Festival in southern New Hampshire. He was my "assistant literary manager" but he was so much more literate and knowledgable about the art of playwriting than I. He was incredibly smart and incredibly funny – an unbeatable combination. His death is a gut punch. Sending love to all his family. – Austin

Oh, how we loved Russ. He and Michael Bernard were our neighbors in New Hampshire. We called them Ernie and Bert. Michael and I convinced Russ to direct ImprovBoston while he was at BU getting his MFA. Russ wrote a show with Dave Razowsky and myself. I will never forget how much he loved to laugh, nay giggle. We had so much fun together and he was one hell of a playwright. He seemed to always show up in wherever we were traveling abroad and we had such good times seeing theater together, discussing shows in pubs and taking walking tours. Thank you, Russ, for making my life so much smarter, wackier and sweeter. In April, we discussed meeting in LA so you could finally pay up on that bet we made in the '90's about the Bulls vs. Jazz. I'd rather have you here than for you to go to such great lengths to not have to buy me that drink. – Dee

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Austin Tichenor / Dee Ryan

Don't know who "Cheyney" is but that lengthy remembrance is from Austin Tichenor and Dee Ryan.

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Braden Webb

I miss my uncle and doppelgänger so much.  I was honored every time someone said I reminded them of him.  He was someone to look up to and wanna be like. I always bragged about my cool uncle.  He took me to my first NBA game, and I’ve been a Jazz fan since.

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Jesse Scoble

One of the lights in the computer game industry – in this world – went dark last week, my good friend, Russell Lees.

There’s no fairness to the universe. We’ve known that since childhood – well, at least since the Princess Bride. I don’t actually know if Russell (lots call him Russ, but I feel I rarely did) liked it, but I suspect he did. But that’s my preference for the pop culture reference coming through – Russell was always a smarter, better educated, more erudite writer than I was.

I met him on my first project at Ubisoft Montreal – I parachuted in to help the Watch Dogs 2 team through their final polish phase... and I had no idea what to expect.

From the start I was sitting directly across from a closed-off, walled-up, grumpy guss.

And I decided on Day One (or maybe Day Ten) that I was going to make him my friend.

(Note: It’s very possible no one else has ever though of Russ as grumpy. And honestly it was probably the late phase of the project, because he really wasn’t. But I was young and insecure and joining this massive project, so I invented narratives for my own self.)

Anyway, I don’t remember a whole helluva lot about our interactions on WD2 – I felt he was marginally accepting of me, in at least I didn’t make a fool out of myself, didn’t kick his feet too much under the desk, didn’t spill my coffee on him.

Because a few months later, when WD2 wrapped, I was given a chance to join the Assassin’s Creed Origins team, and Russell was going to be one of the anchors on the project.

(I dug into my old emails, and we were clearly friendly at the end of WD2 leading into the AC project. I really wish I could remember what I did to win Russell over, but regardless, his eternal optimism shines through even then.)

As I was heading off on vacation before joining the team, I asked him what he thought of the status of the new project:

Russell wrote:
They're way behind on the narrative of AC - I don't think they realize just how far behind they are.

I've chosen to view the whole situation as a "challenge".

And then as I got closer to my start date, we had this exchange:
Jesse wrote:
I'm running out of the end of my [vacation]. :) I'll be joining you folks next week.

Any tips? :)

Russell replied:
Brace yersel'!

Which was a more perfect answer than he could have imagined.

Over the course of the project, in the summer of 2017, I had the brilliant idea of selling Russell on the concept of co-presenting a talk for MIGS (the big Montreal game industry conference); he reluctantly agreed, we submitted our application, and were shocked that it was accepted. He was not overjoyed.

So we set about working on the meat of our talk:

I’ve Got To See A Man About A Unicorn: The Myth of Open World Narrative

We presented in December of 2017, as I was simultaneously trying to shop for a house and was thoroughly distracted. I’m not sure Russell ever forgave me for dragging him up on stage, but the experience was great, and I think we made a pretty good team.

For the last several years I wanted to reprise that team by luring him down to Raleigh for the East Coast Games Conference, my favorite storytelling conference, but COVID quashed those plans.

After working together on AC Origins, Russell and I ended up on different paths. He stayed in the AC world for a while, while I jumped over to the Far Cry brand. Then, I went to help the AC Odyssey group, and Russell joined Far Cry in a stint as lead writer on New Dawn. Then he went back to AC, and I moved over to HyperScape.

But we would connect for lunch or coffee every few months. He was a sanity check for me at Ubisoft, which – while it could be great – could also be baroque and labyrinthian. He had experience and wisdom and savvy, and he was a much better team player than me. He was more level-headed and almost always optimistic.

I wanted to see him take on more of a leadership role and help mentor another generation of writers, because he had so much to share. But I learned a lot from him; I valued his friendship; I cherish his memory.

During the pandemic, we chatted, but more and more infrequently. Especially this last year, after I left Ubisoft. One of the cruelties of the pandemic is that it eroded so many of these opportunities to renew and build upon friendships. Which isn’t to say we drifted apart, because every time we talked it was like we had just seen each other the other day.

In the early days of the pandemic I shared an email with the old WD2 team based a review of a friend who had finally played the game. It prompted this reply from Russell:

RUSSELL:
WD2 is the one game I played all the way through after I'd worked on it. I did everything - all the puzzles and side things. It was so much fun to listen in on phones and read texts and just bump into people. All the actors were clearly having fun and enjoying their parts. Easily the most fun game to play I've been involved in - and I didn't have to shoot people!

Russell was a great confidant. I’ve often complained that I never had a real mentor (or “rabbi”) at Ubisoft, but Russell was someone who would always make time to talk, and give me what advice he could.

He had a wealth of experience, and tremendous patience. He was funny, sharp, had great writing instincts and a wonderfully calm, patient demeanor.

Our last emails were almost from a year ago, though we spoke several times on Discord, and we had been planning on a catch-up lunch any day now.

Russell – wherever you are – I hope you’re having a mean Elderflower Rum mojito. I miss ya, amigo. I’m sure you’ve returned to star stuff, but the world is a whole lot darker without you.

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Guestbook manager
Nicolas Robion

My sincered condolences to his family and friends. I worked with Russell few years ago on a video game. We were based in Montpellier (France) while he helped us from Montréal. Despite the distance, he was always patient, gentle and positive ; always finding solutions. It was a real privilege to work with such a tallented and listening person. I feel sad about loosing such a good person.

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Leanne Taylor-Giles

I worked with Russell on Watch Dogs 2, and most recently he helped us out with the pipeline for Discovery Tour: Viking Age. I was delighted to have the chance to introduce him to my writing colleagues who hadn't been lucky enough to work with him before. I knew that, even though I was leaving the company, with him they would be in good hands.

Through whatever trick of fate, James and Evie often wound up waiting outside the grocery store, PA, at the same time as Russell. We ran into him frequently, taking the girls to daycare or bringing them home, and Evie was always excited to tell me she'd seen him (even if I'd been right next to her at the time!). He inspired such delight.

I never complimented him as much as I wanted to because he was so humble, I was wary of embarrassing him. Knowing he was in our industry made my world a better place. Although I've left Ubisoft and we're soon to leave Montreal, in some distant future I had carried the notion that, if I ever returned to either the city or AAA, looking to work wherever Russell was would always be a good choice.

Thank you for this beautiful eulogy. It's so important to me that he was happy. And I hope, somehow, through our sporadic communications, that he knew how much he was loved.

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Guestbook manager
Eric Porowski

My sincere condolences to the family. Russell will always be a great man who blessed the lives of millions with his artistry. His presence, wisdom and quips will live on forever in the memories of those who had the pleasure of knowing him in person.

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