bill russell wife

Bill Russell’s First Wife: Rose Swisher – Life, Children, and Legacy

Bill Russell, the legendary former Boston Celtics center, had four marriages throughout his life. However, our focus here is on his first wife, Rose Swisher, the mother of his three children. Despite her connection to one of the NBA’s most respected figures, Swisher led a relatively low-profile life. In this article, we explore her life, her relationship with Bill Russell, their children, and her achievements in more detail.

Summary of Rose Swisher’s Biography

  • Full Name: Rose Swisher
  • Born: December 27, 1936
  • Died: September 11, 2014
  • Age at death: 78 years old
  • Nationality: American
  • Ethnicity: African American
  • Marital Status: Divorced
  • Ex-Husband: William “Bill” Fenton Russell (married 1956, divorced 1973)
  • Children: William Fenton Russell Jr., Jacob H. Russell, Karen Russell
  • Education: University of San Francisco
  • Profession: Model, photographer
  • Famous for: Being Bill Russell’s first wife

Early Life and Education

Not much is known about Rose Swisher’s early life, including her birthplace, parents, and any siblings she might have had. The exact location of her birth within the United States has yet to be determined. However, being born in North America allowed her to enjoy all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of an American citizen.

Swisher attended the University of San Francisco around the same time as Bill Russell. It was there that she graduated with a degree in Nursing. Unfortunately, details about her childhood, formative years, and schooling before college remain unknown.

Marriage to Bill Russell

Rose Swisher and Bill Russell were college sweethearts, having met while both studying at the University of San Francisco. Rose was a Nursing major, and Bill was a Physical Education major. Although the finer details of the early days of their relationship, including exactly how, where, and when they met, have yet to be revealed, it is clear that they shared a strong bond.

They dated each other exclusively for the rest of their time in college before eventually exchanging marital vows in front of their family and friends on December 9, 1956. Swisher spent nearly two decades as Bill Russell’s wife, from 1956 to 1973, a period that also represents a little over the length of time the late center spent playing in the NBA.

Reason for Divorce

The couple reportedly divorced due to emotional distance that developed between them. This distance may have been exacerbated by the pressures of Russell’s successful basketball career and the public scrutiny that came with it. Despite the end of their marriage, Russell ensured that Swisher had the necessary resources to take care of herself and their children.


Rose Swisher and Bill Russell had three children together: William Fenton Jr., Jacob H. Russell, and Karen Russell. William Jr., born on November 2, 1957, passed away in 2016 after a battle with cancer. He worked as a truck driver for Cox Trucking for several years, having had a childhood fascination with trucks.

Jacob H. Russell, born on July 6, 1959, lives a private life in Washington State with his wife, Sara Mackx Russell. Not much is known about his career or personal life, but it is clear that he values his privacy.

Karen Russell, born on January 20, 1962, is a legal and political analyst, blogger, and Harvard Law School graduate. She has achieved notable accomplishments throughout her career and has appeared in the public eye due to her work. Karen’s law degree has allowed her to contribute meaningfully to various legal and political discussions, making her a prominent figure in her field.

Life After Divorce

Following her divorce from Bill Russell, Rose Swisher lived a private life away from the public eye. Consequently, not much is known about her subsequent romantic relationships or if she ever remarried. Her decision to live a low-key existence meant that details of her personal life remained mostly private.

In contrast, Bill Russell went on to marry three more times after his divorce from Swisher. His second marriage was to 1968 Miss USA Dorothy Ansett in 1977, which ended in 1980. Marilyn Nault, a former jewelry salesperson, became Bill Russell’s third wife in 1996. Sadly, their union ended with her death in 2009 after a battle with cancer. Russell’s fourth and final wife before his death was Jeannine Fiorito, a former pro golfer. She remained by his side until his passing at his Mercer Island, Washington home on July 31, 2022, at the age of 88.

Career and Achievements

Before her marriage to Bill Russell, Swisher reportedly worked as a model and photographer. However, details about her career in these fields remain scarce. The nature of her work as a model and photographer, and any notable accomplishments in those fields, are not well-documented.

It is also unclear if Swisher continued to work in these professions after her marriage to Russell or after their divorce. Despite the lack of information about her career, it is evident that she was a talented and determined individual who made an impact in her chosen fields.


Rose Swisher passed away on September 11, 2014, at the age of 78. Her cause of death was not revealed to the public, reflecting the low-profile nature of her life following her divorce from Bill Russell. Though the exact circumstances of her passing remain private, her memory lives on through her children and the legacy she left behind.

In conclusion, Rose Swisher, the first wife of basketball legend Bill Russell, led a largely private life despite her connection to one of the NBA’s most respected figures. While not much is known about her early life, her relationship with Russell, their children, and her achievements, her life serves as a testament to her strength, resilience, and determination to maintain her privacy despite her high-profile marriage.