Dianne Russell believes people hold a preconceived notion of her as a smiley, buttoned-up, conservative businesswoman.
Sure, she manages a pair of radio stations in the region in 102.9 CFAR in Flin Flon and 102.9 CJAR in The Pas; is president of the Flin Flon and District Chamber of Commerce and sits on various committees that benefit the area’s economic and cultural development.
Yes, she used to own and operate a pair of businesses in the city, including a neighbourhood grocery story and, until 2011, a Curves fitness centre.
But Russell laughs when people associate with her outside of a business setting.
“When people see me in the evening with friends acting silly or speaking like a sailor or just having fun, some get shocked by me because they don’t know me that way,” Russell said. “You know that song ‘I’ve Got Friends in Low Places?’ Well, I wouldn’t say I do, but I really enjoy all types of people and I like being from a small town. I’m really just a simple, down-to-earth person who doesn’t need all the bells and whistles.”
Russell was born to Doug and Dona O’Brien in Regina. The family of eight moved to Flin Flon in 1972 when Doug took over management of the local radio station.
Russell was only four at the time but remembers the trip, particularly because their pregnant pet cat had kittens on the way. She loved her new, small-town home, making friends in school that she still remains close to. She graduated from
Hapnot Collegiate in 1986.
As a youth, she vowed not to enter the family business in radio. Instead, she became an entrepreneur, running an IGA grocery store then opening Curves in 2003.
Russell has four children from her first marriage. Starting a family made her appreciate the community of Flin Flon even more than when she was a youth.
“When the kids were little, I came to discover what a really great, stress-free place this is to raise kids,” she said.
However, the O’Briens’ legacy in the radio industry ultimately drew her in. Her brother took over the family business and continually asked her to join the management team. She held off until he changed her notions about the business.
“I was one of the six kids who did not get too involved in the radio station,” Russell said. “My brother finally explained to me that one of the big parts of the business is helping people. Once I looked at it in a different way, I decided, yeah, I’d give it a go.”
She found that the basic knowledge she required to work in the industry was already within her through “osmosis.”
“When you grow up in radio, you find you have a basic knowledge of marketing that I didn’t know I had,” Russell said. “Those are the two passions I have outside of my family – small business and marketing.”
She also has her parents’ bent for volunteerism. She sits on the city’s Main Street Committee, the Homecoming 2017 committee and has been involved in the Flin Flon Trout Festival.
Russell is also excited about being part of the North Central Canada Centre of Arts and Environment project, an initiative to develop a facility in the Flin Flon region that would promote art, culture and the area’s unique natural features.
The project is still in its early stages, but ultimately, the board putting it together would like to see something similar to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Alberta.
Russell also sits on the Manitoba government’s Northern Economic Development Task Force, which she hopes will help people realize that the Dauphin-The Pas-Flin Flon regions – basically west-central Manitoba – are not remote outposts, but a key player in Manitoba’s economic function.
“Manitoba tends to concentrate its resources in the South. It’s funny because we consider Flin Flon as being in the North, but people in Alberta don’t say Edmonton is in the North,” she said. “I really hope this group is going to find a way to adjust this mindset so we can expand the province in general.”
But that’s the public side of Russell. Back home, by herself, she loves to read anything she can get her hands on. She is currently reading fiction, but she will have periods where non-fiction books will catch her interest.
“I’m an avid reader, whether it’s for five minutes or an hour. I’ll even sacrifice sleep to read. I love historical fiction,” she said.
Although she admits she’s had her share of challenges – as everyone has – Russell considers herself lucky. She said she was 40 when she realized that what she was doing with her life was not as important as who she was becoming as a person.
She now considers it a blessing to be sitting in her father’s old desk chair at CFAR, the one with duct tape on the arms.
“What’s that saying? ‘The strongest steel goes through the hottest fires,” she said. “I’ve had challenges. The loss of a marriage. The loss of a dream, maybe. I never imagined staying in Flin Flon my whole life. I’m the type of person that, when people meet me, they think I’m a city girl. I present myself that way, I guess.
“I’m now 48 and I’ve come to realize in the past five years that it doesn’t matter what you’re doing or where you’re doing it. It matters how you do it, the person you are becoming and the people you have around you. That’s how I got settled with what I was doing personally and professionally.”
That’s the basis of what has become Russell’s life’s axiom. It’s two, simple words: “Keep smiling.”
“I’m known for being a smiler. That is part of who I am and when I go through my day, no matter what’s going on, I keep smiling,” she said.