Evelyn Russo Mills died on July 1, 2019 at age 92, at her home at Lafayette Redeemer.
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She was born on January 5, 1927 in South Philadelphia and grew up on South 13th Street, between Porter and Ritner Streets. Her parents, Nicola (Nick) Russo and Genasia (Gatti) Russo had emigrated from Italy separately, in 1910 and 1912: her father from Sant’Andrea, just south of Naples, and her mother from Foggia, about 100 miles northeast of Naples and closer to Italy’s Adriatic coast. Her parents met in Philadelphia, married in 1920, and had 3 daughters, Antonetta, Melba, and Evelyn; they also lived with Nick’s older brother Luigi, who never married and was very close to all his nieces.
Evelyn graduated from South Philadelphia High School in January 1944 and received a full scholarship to Rosemont College because her grades were so outstanding; she didn’t apply to any other colleges because her parents wouldn’t have been able to afford to send her to college. She commuted daily between her home in South Philly and Rosemont on the Main Line and finished college in 3-1/2 years, graduating in 1947. She then studied at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, before going on to graduate school at Bryn Mawr, which she also attended on scholarship and earned a master’s degree in embryology in 1949, at the age of only 22. She also earned a teaching certificate.
After college, she assisted in scientific research at the University of Chicago, working for Austrian biologist and professor Paul Weiss. She also audited classes at the university, which is where she met her future husband, Don Mills, who was pursuing his bachelor’s degree after having served in WWII. They married in Philadelphia in 1952, and Evelyn used her connections in the science community to help her husband matriculate at Georgetown Medical School. They moved to Washington, D.C. until Don completed his degree, during which time Evelyn worked at National Publishing Company as an editor and proofreader.
After living for a year in Croghan, New York, while Don did his residency, Evelyn and Don and sons Eric and David moved back to Philadelphia to be closer to Evelyn’s parents. She had 2 more children, Ruth and Esther, and the family settled in a small home in Northeast Philadelphia, where Don established his medical practice, seeing patients in the lower level of their home. Evelyn ran the practice: she made appointments and handled all the record-keeping, insurance forms, billing, and bookkeeping. She did everything except examine the patients and diagnose and treat them—and she could have done that, too, if she had wanted to.
Evelyn was incredibly smart and had an encyclopedic memory, and she was very competitive about her intellect. She did (and usually won) the weekly trivia contests and puzzles at Lafayette Redeemer. She loved to sing and dance: when she was a child, her father taught her Neapolitan songs, which continued to be a favorite of hers, and she learned to tap dance and could do a soft shoe even in her 90s. She dressed to the nines and wore makeup and jewelry and (low) heels until she became ill recently.
She enjoyed meeting and talking to people and traveling in the U.S. and to Italy, England, France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Russia, Hungary, and Canada. She had an exceptional talent for learning new languages: she spoke Italian and the Neapolitan dialect, she understood French and Spanish and prided herself on knowing at least a few words of Portuguese, German, Russian, Polish, Romanian, Greek, Albanian, Nigerian, and the languages of anyone who ever passed through Northeast Philadelphia. She also knew more Yiddish than most of her Jewish friends. She is survived by her children: Eric, David and his wife, Barb, Ruth and her husband, Jim Walters, and Esther Mills and her husband, Mark Leonard; 6 grandchildren: Katy, Jennifer, Patrick, and Nick Mills and Alexander and Elizabeth Leonard; 3 step-grandchildren: Harry and Shayne Walters and Brooke Lizotte, and many extended family and friends. Relatives and friends are invited to her VIEWING SATURDAY 9 A.M. at The Maternity B.V.M. Church, 9220 Old Bustleton Ave., Phila., PA 19115, followed by her Funeral Mass at 10 A.M. Interment Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon, PA. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Evelyn's Memory to the American Cancer Society, PO Box 897, Hershey, PA 17033-0897.