Coast loses a judicial icon

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - If you ever had a chance to talk with Judge Dan Russell away from the courthouse, you would have walked away from that discussion with a smile on your face.  The judge knew how to tell a story.  He was filled with so much knowledge, and he enjoyed sharing his experiences with friends.

His experiences on the battlefield, and later, his legendary experiences in the courtroom during tense civil rights hearings made Judge Russell a respected institution in south Mississippi.  Noted federal judge passed away overnight after a lengthy illness.  Good Morning Mississippi anchor Rhonda Weidner got that word early this morning from family members.

Judge Russell was nominated to the federal bench in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.  And he immediately began presiding over significant cases that focused on the civil rights era.

The Gulfport High grade got his degree from the University of Mississippi in 1935, and got a law degree from Ole Miss in 1937.

Seven decades later, colleagues showed their respect for this south Mississippi maverick by naming the $58 million federal courthouse in downtown Gulfport the Dan M. Russell United States Courthouse.  The day it was dedicated, Russell said the honor was the "happiest moment of my life."  On a tour of the eight story courthouse two days earlier, he joked, "In spite of the name that's on it, it's still a mighty pretty building."

He was 90 years old at the time, and told friends he hoped to make it to 91.  Like he did most of his life Judge Russell far surpassed his expectations.  Dan Russell was born in 1913.  He died Saturday morning, 98 years later.

Later Saturday on WLOX News, Jeff Lawson will look back at Judge Russell's career on the bench, a career the judge said four years ago was "good.  I couldn't ask for better."  Jeff's story will also concentrate on the judge's war experience, when he left Bay St. Louis and fought in World War II.

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