Charles Mason `Daffy' Russell Jr., 91, longtime athletics coach in Annapolis

September 01, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Charles Mason "Daffy" Russell Jr., who coached lacrosse and football at St. Mary's High School in Annapolis for 35 years and during World War II survived the kamikaze bombing of the carrier USS Franklin, died Thursday of cancer at the Atria Manresa, an Annapolis assisted-living facility. He was 91.

The lifelong Annapolis resident grew up playing football, baseball, basketball and lacrosse, and started the lacrosse program at Annapolis High School in 1929.

After graduation from Annapolis High School, he went to work at the old United States Naval Engineering Experiment Station as a storekeeper in the supply department, and continued playing semi-pro baseball during the 1930s for Annapolis Coca-Cola and Arundel Rug Co. teams.

A goalie, he played lacrosse until he was 43 and coached his last youth lacrosse game when he was 83, said family members.

"He got the nickname Daffy because he never wore a helmet when he played lacrosse or football, and it stuck," said his son, Charles Mason "Rusty" Russell III of Harwood.

With the founding of the Annapolis Athletic Association in 1946, Mr. Russell served as the organization's player-coach in lacrosse and football as well as athletic director.

He also coached youngsters in recreation leagues and church teams in football, baseball, basketball and lacrosse.

When St. Mary's High School opened in 1947, Mr. Russell worked part time at the school coaching its basketball team from 1949 to 1950, and then assisted Ed Coughlin, coach of the school's first lacrosse team.

After retiring from the U.S. Naval Academy as supervisor of shipping and receiving in 1967, he went to work the next day coaching full time at St. Mary's High School.

He was the school's head lacrosse coach, assistant football coach and eventually athletic director and physical education teacher. At his retirement in 1980, the school's gymnasium was named in his honor.

He continued to coach the school's junior varsity football and lacrosse teams part time until fully retiring in 1988.

"He's a person of immense stature in Anne Arundel County. He was a very popular and well-known coach," said a nephew, District Court Judge G. Darrell Jr.

In 1989, Mr. Russell was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Other awards included the Glen Hugh Gelston Award for his lifelong support of lacrosse.

A lesser-known chapter in Mr. Russell's life began when he volunteered in 1942 for service in the Navy during the war.

In 1943, he joined the USS Franklin as storekeeper and, at 31, was the oldest member of the ship's crew. The carrier was off the coast of Japan when it was damaged in a March 1945 kamikaze attack that killed 724 crew members and wounded 265.

The ship, on fire and dead in the water, listed to 13 degrees while 106 surviving officers and 604 enlisted crew members fought to save the seriously damaged carrier. The ship later returned to the United States under its own power and was repaired.

"He loved that old ship. He was a member of a six-man gun crew and turned around to grab a shell. An explosion killed the entire crew except him. He was blown into the water and said the worst thing was that it was filled with blood and body parts of those who were blown off the Franklin," said his son.

He was later transferred to the USS Sam Houston because of his wounds. He was discharged from the Navy in 1945, and his decorations included a Purple Heart and nine battle stars.

He was a member of Disabled American Veterans Post No.3, VFW Post No. 304, Military Order of the Purple Heart Combat Wounded and the American Legion.

He was a 68-year member of St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Annapolis.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, 109 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis.

In addition to his son, Mr. Russell is survived by a sister, Virginia Russell of Edgewater; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Another son, John Russell, died in 1967.

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