Gordon Russell, director of security for the NRA, died earlier this month while attending to his many duties during a Board of Directors meeting. He was 55, but in that short of time he’d accumulated an unbelievable knowledge and skill, thanks in part to the time he spent as a member of the United States Secret Service.
To all who knew and loved him—and that is all of the headquarters staff, past and present—he was better known as “Russ.” He’d greet you with a smile, every day, even if his Dallas Cowboys fumbled another game. He’d also keep you in tow and out of trouble, inside the building, at the Annual Meetings or even when angry demonstrators were waiting curbside.
If he lost that smile you knew something was amiss, but what the heck, “Russ is here.” A lot of my friends have shared stories the last few days about him taking on protesters and being the tough guy you expect from the chief of security, but I guess I’m lucky to have never seen him in action like that. I did get to witness his death-star stare when a blogger made a ridiculous request at the Annual Meetings in Pittsburgh. He didn’t say a word. The message was delivered with laser-like precision and Russ moved on.
People skills were his hidden talent. When I learned of his death from a former coworker, she commented that no one will ever know how much he helped NRA Publications. Russ helped everyone who needed it, though. His uncanny ability to always do it with a palpable sincerity probably made every employee utter those same words, moments after learning of his fate.
He kept local law enforcement appraised of every photo shoot scheduled outside the building on NRA property, then show up with a big sign that said, “Photo Shoot,” for extra insurance. When some sort of dubious fire code was enforced that precluded physically challenged members of the staff using a battery-run elevator when the alarm rang, he figured out their precise evacuation plans and routes (with alternatives, depending on tower affected). I always called his office whenever rogue protesters or camera crews showed up on the sidewalk out front. It never failed, though, he already knew and had a description down to the size of their Birkenstocks, car they arrived in and probably GPS coordinates.
And he wasn’t one of those “Enforcers” someone grows to resent. Inadvertent and slight infractions always resulted in him looking away, as if he didn’t want to see anything at that point. Then he’d say, “You know the rules.” Thankfully I never was around to witness larger rule breaking, although I did push the limits enough that every time we saw each other his customary greeting was, “I’m watching you.”
NRA lost a great asset in Gordon Russell, but St. Peter now has a great backup when he grabs something to eat. If I get my way I’ll show up right at lunch and get to hear, “I’m watching you,” at least one more time.