John J. 'Jack' Russell Jr.

A recovering alcoholic, he established a delivery service to help others get back into the work force.

November 26, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,

John Joseph "Jack" Russell Jr., a recovering alcoholic who established a delivery service employing other alcoholics to help them get back into the work force, died Friday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Abingdon resident was 72.

Mr. Russell, who was born and raised in the Bronx, N.Y., was a graduate of St. Luke's Parochial School.

He worked as a longshoreman in New York City for United States Lines before moving to Baltimore in 1970, when he took a job as a container supervisor for Maersk Lines at Dundalk Marine Terminal.

After his job at Maersk was eliminated in 1975, Mr. Russell worked selling nuts and bolts, in the Baltimore Sun's circulation department, and for several messenger services.

In 1982, Mr. Russell's life changed after his son, John Joseph "Jack" Russell III of Kingsville, was arrested for driving while under the influence, and the father suggested that his son attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

"At first, my father said he did not need to go to the meetings and only went because he wanted to accompany my brother," said his daughter, Merri Russell Cage of Bel Air.

"But once he started going, he never drank again, and that's why they both have the same sobriety date, which would have been 25 years this coming January," she said.

"Jack Russell is a legend, and everyone in Harford County knew him," said Dick M., a member of AA for 12 years and a longtime friend. (AA members generally do not allow the use of their last names.)

"He had a story which he always said at meetings. He'd say, 'When the time comes, and I go to God's heaven, he will ask me what I did with the gift of sobriety that he had given to me. Did I help others?' " Dick M. said.

"From that moment Jack joined AA, he lived that life of helping others, so when the time came, he could answer that question honestly. He lived for AA and helped hundreds and hundreds of people, including me," he said.

In 1997, Mr. Russell founded the Dog Pound, a separate meeting of recovering alcoholics who met weekly at a member's home.

Mr. Russell always made nervous newcomers feel comfortable and welcome.

"We had a guy who came to the meeting for 10 years, and he was always drunk. He just didn't get it. We used to wonder why Jack kept working with the guy," said Dale G., who had been sponsored by Mr. Russell and said he has been sober since 1990. "And then one day it hit us: By trying to help that guy, it helped keep Jack sober."

John Fleischer, another one of Mr. Russell's sponsors, has been in AA since 2003.

"He was more than a sponsor; he became my friend. My daughter and son adopted Jack as a grandfather," said Mr. Fleischer, who requested that his last name be used.

It wasn't uncommon for Mr. Russell to attend three AA meetings before noon and work late into the night attending other meetings.

On his rounds was a weekly invitation to speak at Father Martin's Ashley, a treatment center founded by the Rev. Joseph Martin near Havre de Grace.

"Every Thursday, and it made no difference if it were Thanksgiving Thursday, he'd get up and go to Father Martin's to speak to recovering alcoholics," Mrs. Cage said.

Chad R., sober for 12 years and who also had Mr. Russell as his sponsor, remarked on Mr. Russell's "tremendous zest for life, in and out of AA."

"Jack just loved people, and he saved my life. He saved my life, and if you multiply all the lives, marriages and families he saved, the total would have to be in the thousands," he said.

To help recovering alcoholics get back on their feet, Mr. Russell hired them to work for Wings Messengers, a company he established in 1993.

"By doing this, he was able to provide the opportunity to help a recovering alcoholic get back into the work force, become productive members of society, and bolster their self-esteem and confidence," his daughter said.

Mr. Russell continued working at Wings until entering the hospital Nov. 11.

AA members signed up in teams of two to sit with him in two-hour shifts at the hospital. It took 10 minutes to fill the sign-up sheet, family members said.

On the evening he died, his daughter attended Mr. Russell's regular meeting.

"In his regular chair, they placed his golf hat, a diet Coke, flowers, and a statue of the Bible and a little note: 'In Memoriam: Jack Russell,'" Mrs. Cage said.

"We're going to keep his legacy alive and going onward," said Dale G.

In addition to being an avid golfer, Mr. Russell enjoyed hunting, fishing and dancing.

His wife of 50 years, the former Toni Marie Boyan, a registered nurse, died in 2006.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday at Father Martin's Ashley Center, 800 Tydings Lane, Havre de Grace.

Also surviving are another son, Raymond V. Russell of Mesa, Ariz.; three grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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