Jim “Cool Breeze” Russ was born to win! He understood that entrepreneurship, home ownership and employment were key to the thriving African American economy he envisioned for Pittsburgh. When honored at the 2017 Classic Events! Black History Celebration, a Proclamation from Pittsburgh City Council said he “created a business blueprint and employment opportunities in the Black Community.” He captured the attention of the City for more than six decades.
Jim began his career as a teenager working after school as a shoe salesman at Wolfe Shoe Store on Centre Avenue. If you were a kid in the Hill District or Homewood and owned a pair of Buster Brown shoes, it was pretty certain that your parents purchased them from “Cool Breeze.” Relying on a hard work ethic and determination, he saved enough money to buy his first car before he even had a license to drive! After graduating from high school, he worked briefly for a general contractor; then launched the first of many family-owned businesses.
He led by example, proving that African American professionals had the knowledge and expertise to have successful careers in all aspects of business. Over time, he amassed know how in sales, real estate, general contracting, food services, and entertainment. His business ventures included: Braddock Enterprises, Penn Hills Custom Decorators, Russ’ Ribs Unlimited, Joker’s Wild Cocktail Lounge, Russ’ Players Key Lounge, Dolphin Lounge, Playmate Café, Tony’s Place, ICNA Club and Rural Club. Hundreds of local people were employed in these businesses.
Jim was a visionary business leader; however, his greatest joy and deepest commitment were to his family. He married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Jean (Farr) Russ—a marriage that lasted 68 years! Affectionately known as Dottie, she preceded him in death by only three days. He doted on his two sisters Joyce and Karol and their children. In addition to his children—Jeannie, Jim, Tony, Rick and Jimmy—he and Dottie were adopted by Richard (Butch) Wright whom he eagerly took under his wing.
A renaissance man, Jim loved traveling the world with his bride always by his side. He documented their travels, everyday life and family milestones with his collection of Nikon cameras. His photographs chronicled the life adventures of the entire family and friends. A Grille Master with legendary skills, everyone looked forward to the backyard barbeques and annual picnics in North Park. You knew you were either special or in trouble when he called
you to his side at the grille to share the wisdom of the day while allowing you to sample succulent ribs made complete with Dottie’s legendary sauce.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania February 29, 1932, he was the first child of Marjorie (Jenkins) and James Cletus Russ. He graduated from Fifth Avenue High School and earned an Associate Degree in Business from Duquesne University. Later in life he surrendered to Christ, joined the Lily Baptist Church and in 1997 became an ordained Deacon.
A wise, compassionate, perfectly imperfect man, Jim realized he couldn’t hit a “home run” in life without touching all the bases. Family was First Base; Knowledge and Wisdom—Second Base; service to others—Third Base; and finally sliding into eternity—Home Base. He joined the ancestors on a sunny afternoon in Denver, Colorado Thursday, April 16, 2020.
Jim was preceded in death by wife Dorothy (Dottie) Russ, son Anthony (Tony) Russ, Sister Karol Covington, granddaughter Amber Russ, and Richard (Butch) Wright. Left to celebrate his extraordinary life and legacy are his daughter Jeannie Davis (Aurora, CO), sons James (Jim) Russ (North Port, FL), Rick Russ (Venice, FL), and Jimmy Thrift (Pittsburgh, PA); Grandchildren: Robert (Nanette) Anderson (Upper Marlboro, MD), Jason (Sita) Russ (Sarasota, FL) Crystal and Tony (Sugar) Russ (Pittsburgh, PA), R.J. Russ (Atlanta, GA), Jaron, Jayvon, and Jayden Thrift (Pittsburgh, PA), and Richard Anthony Wright. Great-grandchildren: Christopher and Chancellor Anderson; Dyami, Kaya and Akio Russ; Kaleb and Kaylin Cormany, Amber and Lawrence Broadus; and Shania, Avyion and Neela Russ; Sister, Joyce Patterson; Sisters-in-Law, Magdalene (Mag) Lindsay (Pittsburgh, PA), Connie Kane (Aurora, CO), and Mary Farr (Pittsburgh, PA) and Goddaughter Gloria Morton (Orangeburg, SC) along with a tribe of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.
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