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Fred J. Russell, 90; served Nixon and had a successful career in business

February 08, 2007|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Fred J. Russell, a businessman who transformed a bankrupt foundry into a leading seller of residential locks and who later served in the administration of President Nixon, died Jan. 9 in Los Angeles from complications of Parkinson's disease. He was 90.

Born in Alberta, Canada, Russell moved with his family to Southern California when he was 10. His father was a lumberjack and farmer.

After graduating from Monrovia High School, Russell began a career in the aviation industry, holding several positions at Douglas Aircraft Co. and Timm Aircraft Co. A turning point for Russell came in 1946 when, with his brother Frank, he bought Weiser Lock in a bankruptcy sale. The company had eight employees.

When Russell sold the firm 21 years later it had 1,600 employees and, according to a Weiser biography, "it was selling more than 30% of all residential locks in the U.S., over 50% of those in Canada."

Over the years, Russell created and sold numerous businesses, including Gabriel Steel Co., Southland Water Co. and Mira Loma Water Co. He also owned a substantial amount of real estate.

During the 1968 presidential campaign, Russell backed the Republican, Richard Nixon, and made major contributions to his campaign. The following year, Nixon appointed him deputy director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, which then was responsible for coordinating the government's response to disaster.

In 1970, Nixon named Russell undersecretary of the Interior, a position that allowed him to play a critical role in shaping environmental policy.

During his stint at the Department of the Interior, Russell came under fire for decisions that some said were too pro-business. A congressman said Russell had stacked the Coal Mine Advisory Committee with Republican Party officials with no expertise in the field and urged Nixon to fire him. In 1971, Nixon accepted Russell's resignation but later appointed him U.S. ambassador to Denmark.

He is survived by his longtime companion Gwen Stevens, and two children from his marriage to Mildred Balden Russell, which ended in divorce: a daughter, Terry Lee Russell of Beverly Hills, and a son, Frederick B. Russell of Sarasota, Fla. Russell also is survived by his sister, Virginia Webb of Fullerton, and Stevens' daughter, April Palmetier of Los Angeles.

A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the St. Joseph Chapel of the Carondelet Center, 11999 Chalon Road, Los Angeles. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent to St. John of God Retirement and Care Center, 2468 S. St. Andrews Place, Los Angeles, CA 90018.

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