Remembering Mayor Russell Lloyd 40 years since his tragic death

Remembering Mayor Russell Lloyd: 40 years since his tragic death

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - 40 years ago, Evansville lost an icon.

Former Mayor Russell Lloyd was shot four times inside his home. The city of Evansville was left heartbroken.

There are many ways to tell his story, the political icon who rubbed elbows with other city leaders, governors and presidents. But deeper than that, he was a father. A man who loved playing basketball with his kids, going to Notre Dame football games and serving his country.

Not even three months after one of the most illustrious tenures in the mayor’s office, Evansville’s beloved former mayor was suddenly clinging to life.

“So, I was at home when it happened," said Russell Lloyd Jr. “I heard the pow, pow, pow. I came down and heard screaming. So I came downstairs and saw him laying there between the kitchen and dining room where he had been sitting.”

Lloyd was shot four times by a disgruntled citizen who thought he was still the mayor.

“I guess he had been, was actually sitting there, drinking coffee doing a crossword. Julie Van Orden came in, and I guess they had an argument, and she shot him,” said Lloyd Jr.

Two days later on March 21, Russell Lloyd Sr. passed away.

“It was just so stunning and such a tragedy that it was just hard to absorb all of that,” said Michael Vandeveer, a former mayor.

Vandeveer had just taken over for Lloyd as mayor in 1980, he remembers the thousands of people who celebrated Lloyd’s life at St. Benedict’s Cathedral.

“I remember it was just a beautiful day, and the sun shined down on his memory,” Vandeveer said.

The memories of Lloyd are not forgotten in the city today and certainly not forgotten by the son who bears his name. Lloyd Jr. keeps what he calls a trophy room in his own home, pictures of his dad cover the walls.

Before his death, Lloyd Sr. had become the face of the city. He was the only Republican mayor elected to a second term in the 20th century. He loved Evansville, and Evansville loved him.

“I think he was a very likable, nice-looking guy that people just liked him and his style," Vandeveer said. “I use the word charismatic, that’s a good word for him.”

“I met the mayor one time; I was a sophomore in high school. I remember the mayor coming to shake hands just like we do today, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow! There’s the mayor!’ And I just thought he was a bigger than life personality,” Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said.

He was a superstar, but to his oldest son, he was just dad.

“We did play basketball, we would end up having a court in our backyard. Sometimes we would tire him out, he was older and he was a smoker, so we’d kind of wear him down a bit,” Lloyd Jr. said.

That love for sports and recreation would give the city Lloyd Pool and Swonder Ice Rink. He was also instrumental in starting the Evansville Regional Airport, and of course, the Lloyd Expressway, which changed the city’s landscape forever.

20 years later, Russell Lloyd Jr. also became mayor.

“Even that night, I thanked him and I said, what he did, I would not have been successful without it,” Lloyd Jr said.

“It makes a bold statement about the entire family because it’s a family of service," Mayor Winnecke said. “Russ was on the county council, now serving as our city controller. His sister is a judge.”

Although 40 years have passed by, it doesn’t seem like that long ago for his family. The legacy of Russell Lloyd Sr. is very much alive.

Both within the city’s success and in the hearts of those he knew and loved.

“Treat everybody the same, don’t forget the common person, you know, I tried to follow some of those principles," Lloyd Jr. said. “I’m glad that he gets recognition that way and hopefully, people won’t forget.”

Julie Van Orden was found guilty of murder but also insane a year after the shooting. She died in prison in 2014.

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