This area lost more than a great attorney when Ralph Russo died in a car accident Wednesday, the day after he had watched his Cleveland Indians defeat the New York Yankees.
It lost a good man.
Russo arrived in Hancock County via New York, where he was born, and Ohio Northern University, where he studied law. He may have stayed in Findlay, fellow attorney Tom Drake said, because he grew to like small-town living.
Whatever the reason, those who crossed his path are glad he did.
Besides being a partner in the Betts, Miller & Russo law firm, in which he specialized in real estate, commercial, corporation and construction law, Russo also had served as a prosecutor and a judge, and was active in Republican politics.
He had been this newspaper’s attorney the past several decades, a duty his firm handled well back into the early 1900s, if not earlier.
When it came to public records and open meetings, Russo would advise on what battles to engage in and which ones to avoid. More often than going to court, a quick call or point-on letter to public officials from Russo would resolve the problem.
But Russo wasn’t afraid to fight when needed.
Once, he took the county coroner to the Ohio Supreme Court when the coroner refused to turn over public records regarding suicides.
Another time, he convinced the high court that the county commissioners must disclose a settlement in a civil suit even though they considered it a confidential matter.
“He was willing to give a bit if we were on shaky ground, but got what we wanted,” retired Editor Bob Hesse said Thursday. “He wasn’t a journalist, but he understood our fire.”
Russo’s impact went well beyond The Courier, though. He loved the law and shared what he knew as an adviser and mentor to many. He was interested in the people he met, and let them know by the questions he asked of them.
Remembrances of Russo and prayers for his wife Nancy, who survived the crash but is in serious condition, started as soon as the tragic news broke.
Supreme Court Justice Judi French said Thursday she was grateful for the opportunity to get to know Ralph, even if only for a short time.
Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation President Katherine Kreuchauf wrote on Facebook Thursday: “My heart is heavy today, knowing that I will never see my friend and mentor Ralph Russo again. My deepest sympathies to Ralph’s family, colleagues, clients and many, many friends. Our prayers go out for Nancy’s recovery from this catastrophe.”
Our sentiments exactly.
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