Rush B. “Rusty” Winchester, Jr. ’73

Rusty Winchester, beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, and steadfast servant to others, died on May 6th at his home in Louisville, Tennessee at the age of 73. His death was due to complications from heart surgery. While his physical heart gave out, his loving heart did not. During his last days at home, he was surrounded by family who had the privilege of ushering him to his heavenly home with songs of love and words of peace.

Rush Berryhill “Rusty” Winchester Jr., the oldest of five children of Rush and Barbara Winchester, was born Nov. 16, 1950, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The family moved to Salisbury, Maryland in 1960. He was a graduate of James M. Bennett Senior High in Salisbury. He returned to North Carolina to attend Davidson College, where he was a legacy student in the footsteps of his father. Rusty’s bachelor’s degree was in psychology.

He came to Knoxville in 1973 to study educational psychology and guidance, for which he earned an M.S. degree. He then worked on and received a Ph.D. degree in Child and Family Studies from the former University of Tennessee College of Home Economics, now Human Ecology. His dissertation was on improving the readiness of parents to function as the primary sexuality educators of their own children.

Two of Rusty’s most passionate and dedicated roles were that of “Daddy Rabbit” and “Grandpop”. His ability to channel his inner child in all walks of life allowed him to connect with ease and sincerity. The imprint he leaves behind in his children’s and grandchildren’s lives is profound. His impact as a mentor reached beyond his own family, extending to his children’s closest friends, his adolescent clients, and children without a father figure of their own.

Another testament to Rusty’s compassion was working alongside Rob Kaniper in helping a lifelong friend and fellow musician who became incapable of taking care of himself. Rob said Rusty was such a “vibrant” person who was always thinking of others.

Rusty was a lifelong Vols fan and rarely missed watching a UT football game. He was a gifted woodworker and spent much of his free time in his workshop where he crafted many beautiful pieces of furniture for family and friends. He always loved working in his yard. Rusty was also often seen and heard at gatherings on the congas and bongos, sharing one of his life’s loves-music.

Music has always been a pillar of Rusty’s life. His talent as a drummer, singer, and songwriter led him to play a lead role in many bands, including his debut alongside his brother, Mike, and sister, Talley, in their high school garage band, Bittersweet. Rusty later co-created a folk rock band that was appropriately named, Living Room Talent (LRT). He often referred to LRT as Love’s the Real Thing, a phrase that highlighted a key theme of the songs he wrote and played. For many years, you would find Rusty on the drums every Sunday morning for the praise and worship band at New Providence Presbyterian Church.

Rusty was a well-known Knoxville-area therapist who will be sorely missed and remembered for his 50-year-long career offering healing and hope to his clients and colleagues. At the time of his death, he was a therapist at the Helen Ross McNabb Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee (SACET), where he had worked since 2018. While working at SACET, he facilitated two support groups for survivors of sexual abuse for men and women, respectively. He also managed a full caseload of clients from Knox and surrounding counties. Reflecting on his contributions to SACET and his clients there, his supervisor Joana Perez said, “As a man who defied stereotypes and societal norms, Rusty brought a unique perspective to his work, offering a beacon of hope to many men and women who had suffered in silence. His compassion knew no bounds, and his legacy of empowerment and healing will continue to inspire generations to come.”

During most of his career, Rusty worked with nonprofit agencies as a therapist or education specialist, but he also passed his knowledge and experience on to others in college settings. At Maryville College, he was director of the career center from 2009-2015; at Lincoln Memorial University, he served as assistant professor and chair of counseling in graduate education from 2003 to 2009 at the main Harrogate campus and adjunct counseling instructor at the Cedar Bluff campus teaching masters-level counseling classes in 2010 to 2018.

Those who worked with him had nothing but praise for his high level of energy, as well as his beautiful and equally corny sense of humor. Kim Campbell Byars, who worked with him when he was director at Project Against Sex Abuse of Appalachian Children at Child and Family Services in the 1990s, emphasized his exemplary listening, coaching, and supervising skills.

Rusty is survived by his wife, Sherrill, a high school sweetheart whom he married in 2011; 4 children: Betsy Parks (Matthew), Signal Mountain; Barbara Messerlian (Nick), Signal Mountain; Kylie Winchester (Landon Armstrong), and Cade Winchester; grandchildren, Ethan Parks, and Alex, Will and Ben Messerlian; brother and sisters, Mike Winchester (Susan), Talley Winchester (Jack Fox), and Susan Sawyer (Roger); brother-in-law, Terry Shope; and many nieces and nephews. Preceding him in death were his parents, Rush and Barbara Winchester; stepmom “Dottie” Winchester; and sister, Cindy Winchester.

Rusty’s contributions are immeasurable to every life he touched. One only had to be in his presence to see all that he was. His greatest goal in life was to make others feel heard, seen, valued, and loved. Let us all continue his work…that of a true servant’s heart.

A celebration of life will be held on Sunday, May 26th at 3:00pm at New Providence Presbyterian Church, with receiving of friends immediately following the service.

In lieu of flowers, the family would kindly ask you to consider donating to New Providence Presbyterian Church (703 W Broadway Ave. Maryville, TN 37801) or Helen Ross McNabb Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee (200 Tech Center Dr, Knoxville, TN 37912).