TRIBUTES have been paid to award-winning photographer Alec Russell who died suddenly at home.

Alec, who was a racing columnist with the Gazette & Herald, died last Tuesday, aged 85. Based in Norton, photography was initially his hobby, but after doing some work for local theatres, he branched out into racing and made it a full-time career for over 65 years.

His first piece, in what was The Yorkshire Herald - now the Gazette & Herald - was a write up about the history of the St Leger, which featured in the week of Friday, September 5, 1952.

In 1998, Alec’s hard work was rewarded when he received the Photographer of the Year award at the Horserace Writers and Photographers Association Derby Awards, and at the same awards in 2008, his long and illustrious career in horseracing was recognised when he was awarded The George Ennor Trophy - a lifetime achievement award - shared with Ed Byrne and Gerry Cranham.

In the past 18 months, following the death of his friend Tom O’Ryan, he took over the racing column in the Gazette, which he wrote right up until his death.

>> Look back back at the life and work of the late great Alec Russell

His daughter Jo Russell said: “If it wasn’t for dad, there would be no racing for me. For as long as I can remember I accompanied him to the races, carrying his camera bag and taking the occasional shot.

“As a family we would all go to Aintree for the Grand National. He would position us at different fences, Bechers, The Chair, the last fence, the finish, mum, my brothers, Dave and Allan and me. Watching Red Rum on the sands at Aintree to Frankel winning on the track at York, so many memories.

“He loved National Hunt racing, his favourite photograph was one of the famous Desert Orchid on the North York Moors, but Flat racing was his passion and a highlight was Frankel winning at York, his favourite racecourse.

“Dad was also a life-long Middlesbrough FC fan and, of course, my brothers and I followed in his footsteps to Ayresome Park and The Riverside.”

Lucy Hughes, one of Alec’s grandchildren, said: “I will forever remember grandad for his love and passion for horse racing. He was an intelligent man who always had a story to tell. I enjoyed many days with him on the racecourse and at the Riverside.

“Grandad was a huge help and inspiration for my university dissertation project. I would have not got through the 10,000-word essay without his support and wealth of knowledge. I am so grateful to have shared so many wonderful memories with him.”

Allan Russell, Alec’s son, said: “We had a joint love of racing and I so am pleased that Dad’s work will give lasting memories of his beloved sport.

“Dad was suffering with illness in his last year, but it still came as a massive shock to hear he passed away last Tuesday. Dad to me was my inspiration for my passion for golf, taking us to pitch and putt courses in Scotland in the early years to playing at St Andrews.

“It was because of dad and his stories I have a liking for a variety of sports and music. We all follow the Boro passionately and dad would have loved the 3-0 win over Leeds on Friday.

“Dad will be missed enormously, leaving Shirley his wife, his children Jo, Dave and Allan, daughter’s-in-law and five grandchildren.”

Alec’s funeral will be held on Monday, March 19, at Octon Crematorium at 11am, followed by refreshments at Malton and Norton Golf Club.