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Former Bar President Terry Russell dies at 78

Editor In Memoriam
Terry Russell

Terry Russell on the steps of The Florida Bar in 2001. The Bar’s 53rd president, Russell passed away in Jacksonville February 28. Russell had said he wanted to be remembered “first as a solid lawyer, with a strong love of our profession, and as a leader who advanced our ideals of professionalism, compassion for those in need, and public service.”

A fierce advocate for independence of the legal system and a champion for the less fortunate, former Bar President Terrence Joseph (Terry) Russell passed away February 28 in Jacksonville. He was 78.

Russell, the Bar’s 53rd president, was born in September 1944, before World War II ended, and while his father, a D-Day veteran, was still overseas. Hardworking, blue-collar parents raised by immigrants taught Russell by example that “the only way to accomplish anything and to achieve a goal was by working for it. Nobody was going to hand it to me,” Russell once said.

Both sets of grandparents immigrated from the Middle East, his maternal grandparents from a small village in the mountains of southern Lebanon. His father’s father was given the American name “Russell” at Ellis Island.

As part of a project to document the history of The Florida Bar, Russell said he wanted to be remembered “first as a solid lawyer, with a strong love of our profession, and as a leader who advanced our ideals of professionalism, compassion for those in need, and public service.” He served as president of the Bar in 2001-2002.

Russell was president of the Bar on September 11, 2001, and recalled finding himself at the Supreme Court with former Executive Director Jack Harkness “on a beautiful September morning awaiting the court’s entry to hear my report on the state of the Bar. It was September 11, 2001, at 9 a.m. As events unfolded and it became apparent the enormity of events unfolding in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, Chief Justice Charlie Wells recessed the meeting to another time. Jack and I returned to his office and watched events unfold on TV in stunned silence. We talked about what the Bar could do to help. I remember comparing the attacks to Pearl Harbor. Another day of infamy. I drove my rental car home to South Florida and thought about what to do. It turned out that the Bar had no disaster relief funds from which we could render assistance.”

It was then that Russell worked to created ACT (Attorneys Charitable Trust) funded by the Bar’s members and for its members. It was used for not only 9/11 relief but other natural disasters, as well, over the years.

An advocate for keeping the courthouse doors open to all, Russell worked tirelessly for the passage of the Civil Legal Assistance Act during his term that provided millions of dollars for civil legal services for several years thereafter. Russell, who also served a term as president of The Florida Bar Foundation, received the Foundation’s Medal of Honor Award for that effort.

Terry Russell

Terry Russell

Russell lost an election to become Bar president in 1991 by 250 votes out of the more than 21,000 cast that year. But his fighting spirit, driven by compassion for the less fortunate and passion for his profession, propelled him to try again for the Bar presidency 10 years later.

“It was a very tough experience to lose a race that probably was the closest in The Florida Bar’s history,” Russell said at the time. “But, interestingly enough, it provided the platform for this opportunity, because I discovered 10 years later that all the friends I had made then, all the people who believed in me then, still do now. And they wanted me to do this again. It made for a very powerful and convincing show of support that I think had a lot to do with me securing the office now.”

Russell became a member of The Florida Bar in 1969 after receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida and his law degree from Florida State University. After clerking for federal district Judge W.O. Mehrtens in 1969, he joined the firm that eventually became Ruden, McCloskey, Smith, Schuster & Russell in 1970, and became a member of the firm in 1972. He later continued his career in his hometown of Jacksonville.

Russell met his wife, Mary Kay, when they both were attending Bishop Kenny, a Catholic high school in Jacksonville. They married in 1966 and have two children, Christine and Greg.

A visitation for Russell will be held Sunday, March 5, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Hardage-Giddens Funeral Home, 11801 San Jose Blvd, Jacksonville, FL. 32223. A rosary service will occur at 6 p.m. A mass of Christian burial will be celebrated Monday, March 6, at 10 a.m. in St Joseph’s Catholic Church, 11757 Old St. Augustine Road, Jacksonville, FL. 32258.

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