Obituary: Leo P. Russell / Road contractor who was active in church, charity work

March 15, 1919 - May 21, 2013

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Leo P. Russell, who built his family's paving business, Russell Industries, into a prominent road contracting firm in the Pittsburgh region, but kept a quiet profile through decades of service to his church and charities, died Tuesday of a heart attack.

Mr. Russell, of Scott, was 94.

His son, Stephen, of Mt. Lebanon, said his father collapsed after attending Mass at St. Bernard Church, Mt. Lebanon, on Sunday evening and never regained consciousness.

"If he wasn't going to die on the golf course, then church was the place to have it happen," he said.

The elder Mr. Russell was the longest tenured member at Chartiers Country Club in Robinson, and had played golf there regularly until his health began to decline recently. He shot a hole in one at the club course in 2000 when he was 81.

Born near Lima, Ohio, Mr. Russell spent part of his youth in Linesville, Crawford County, and Erie, Pa., before his father moved the family to Mt. Lebanon and started Russell Standard. The company supplied liquid asphalt and other industrial products.

Mr. Russell graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in 1937 and enrolled in Penn State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering in 1941. He worked as an engineer at Lukens Steel in Coatesville, Pa., until he entered the Navy in 1944 during World War II and served on military ships stationed in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

"They were getting ready to send everyone to the Pacific but by the time his ship went, the war was over," said his son. After the war, Mr. Russell worked briefly in Eastern Pennsylvania and then returned home to help his father launch Russell Industries in 1946. The Bridgeville-based business grew from local paving jobs to major road contracts for municipalities, builders, developers and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

At its peak, the company generated about $25 million in annual revenues and employed 225, said Stephen Russell, who worked in a range of jobs there and eventually became president. Much of its success was the result of his father's management style, which he described as, "a focus on detail and quality and always looking for innovations to try and develop and deliver a better product."

Another son, John of Mt. Lebanon, was treasurer of the business, and their father "was probably stricter with us than with the other employees," Stephen Russell said.

The company was sold in 1996 to Lane Construction of Connecticut.

While he was running the business and during his retirement, Mr. Russell was active with a number of nonprofit organizations, including the Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind, where he served as a board member and board chair and which honored him with the Monsignor Paul M. Lackner Humanitarian Award in 1994.

He also served as board president of St. Clair Hospital and volunteered with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Serra Club, Meals on Wheels and as a eucharistic minister at Our Lady of Grace Church, Scott.

Throughout his life he maintained a deep loyalty to Penn State "because he felt it had a positive impact on his life" in an era when fewer people earned college degrees, Stephen Russell said. He attended his 70th class reunion at Penn State in 2011 and created two academic awards for the school.

The first, which honors his first wife, who graduated from the university in 1948, is the Pauline Schmitt Russell Distinguished Research Career Award in the College of Health and Human Development. The other is the Leo P. Russell Graduate Fellowship in Civil Engineering.

At Mt. Lebanon High School, his stepchildren created the Leo and Marie Russell Scholarships which are awarded annually to two seniors who plan to pursue engineering in college.

Mr. Russell's first wife, Pauline Schmitt Russell, died in 1976, and his second wife, Marie Fleming Russell, died in 2005.

Survivors, in addition to his sons Stephen and John, include two other sons: Mark of Washington, D.C., and Kevin of Mt. Lebanon; a daughter, Marie Klaer of Atlanta; four stepsons, Terrence Fleming of Louisville, Ky., David Fleming of Washington, D.C., Peter Fleming of Hudson, Ohio, and Daniel Fleming of Vero Beach, Fla.; 20 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. today in Our Lady of Grace Church, Scott, followed by interment in Queen of Heaven Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to the St. Vincent DePaul Society, the St. Clair Hospital Foundation, or a charity of the donor's choice.

obituaries

Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.


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