It’s all about integrity for Russell Thomas

The Oilsands Rotary Club honoured Russell Thomas, Director, Communications & Community Impact at The United Way of Fort McMurray, with its Integrity Award on May 6, 2015. Russell was also named a Paul Harris Fellow.


The ceremony was held at the Quality Hotel & Conference Centre, and surrounded by his family, and United Way colleagues, a beaming Russell, accepted the award alongside long-time community members, husband/wife duo John and Gail Foy who were honoured by the Rotary Club of Fort McMurray.

Years ago, I interviewed Russell for a local publication, and he said the one word that defines him is “integrity.” It’s all about trying to do his best, personally and professionally.

“I’ve always tried to make decisions with an integrity mindset, choices that align with my values and best serve my family, work colleagues and community. In my mind, integrity is about always trying to do the right thing, being mindful that how one acts, speaks and thinks impacts others. The key word is ‘trying,’ because we often miss the mark and need to make personal adjustments. My late Uncle Joe is in my mind and heart as I reflect on the nature of integrity. As I entered the political realm, he stressed the need to maintain my integrity: ‘Do what you say you’re going to do, and stay true to your word,’” he shared.

Russell arrived in Fort McMurray in 1996, and quickly saw himself emerge as a community leader.

“I stumbled into the leadership role of the interPLAY Festival early in my tenure in Fort McMurray. I was passionate about the arts, and focused much of my volunteer time trying to re-ignite this event and helping it grow. I am proud of what we accomplished together,” Russell recalled.

“I’m also proud of my many years of contributing at Keyano College. First as the Theatre Publicist, then as Director of Marketing and Communications, I had the opportunity to work with some great people to strengthen an important institution. I greatly value the three years that I spent on regional council. Being able to be immersed in municipal governance provided an invaluable learning experience. There was even more learning going through an election campaign and losing,” he shared.

Speaking of learning, The United Way of Fort McMurray has been a conduit for much discovery in Russell’s life.


“Joining the United Way was one of the best decisions of my professional life. I’ve learned so much about this community, its agencies and citizens who generously give of their time and resources. It’s been so inspiring to work with this team of community-focused, positive professionals. I began my painting journey shortly after starting at the United Way in June of 2014. It’s not a coincidence. My life was (and is) in perfect balance, and the creativity took off.”

Of course, I had to ask Russell about his thoughts on being a social media guru, and how it helps our community.


“Social media has been such a vital conduit for sharing ideas, creating connections and building a stronger community. I’m grateful that the networks I have been able to build on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn have encouraged and assisted many organizations and individuals. I’m still learning though, despite the fact some see me as an expert.”

Loving husband to Heather, proud Papa to Dylan, 16, and Ben, 11, Russell says “it was the gift of my life to go on a blind date with Heather on April 11, 2001. She and my sons are my rocks, my foundation.”

Congratulations again Russell!


Author: Kiran Malik-Khan

Kiran Malik-Khan is the Director of Stakeholder Relations at the United Way. A long-time resident of Fort McMurray, she is a free-lance journalist, poet, communications/social media specialist, and a community leader. She has written hundreds of stories about Fort McMurray – highlighting multicultural causes, unique individuals, and fun events. She is the co-founder/PR Director for NorthWord magazine, our region’s first and only literary magazine. She’s happily married to Mo, and they have two beautiful boys, Sheheryar and Shahzaib.