As a high school sophomore, Russell bought a vacant lot in his Summerhill neighborhood with funds he’d earned shining shoes. Then he built a duplex and used the income to fund his tuition at Tuskegee University. After college he returned to Atlanta and expanded his father’s plastering firm, nabbing his first big break with work on the Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium in 1963. A skeptical but willing Bob Holder hired Russell as a subcontractor for Colony Square in 1968—a mutually beneficial relationship that later thrived for decades. (The two shared some fifty projects.) Russell’s firm shaped Atlanta’s skyline, helping construct Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Turner Field, the Georgia Dome, Philips Arena, and corporate headquarters for the likes of Coca-Cola and Georgia-Pacific. A generous, behind-the-scenes philanthropist, he was the first black member of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce (invited by “mistake” via form letter) and its second black president.
Peaceful Waters Martin Luther King Jr. often found respite at Russell’s indoor pool in his swanky Collier Heights home.