Russell Brown Newton, Jr.

Russell Brown Newton, Jr.

After a full lifetime dedicated to service—to his country, his community, his church and especially his family—Russell Brown Newton, Jr. died peacefully at home, with his devoted wife, Joannie Newton, by his side. He was one month shy of his 99th birthday.

Russell was delivered into this world by his maternal grandfather, a country doctor, in Montezuma, Georgia, on April 18, 1924. He was the eldest of three brothers born to Russell Newton, Sr, a textile engineer, and Helen Newton. Russell first revealed his entrepreneurial spirit in response to the Great Depression of the early 1930s, by peddling fresh eggs and nosegays of flowers, grown by his mother, from the back of his bicycle. This drive to help his family survive and thrive was a defining characteristic during his entire life.

Russell attended the Virginia Military Institute before volunteering to serve in World War II in 1944. As a Captain in the 15th Air Force based in Bari, Italy, Russell was a command pilot in B-24 bombers, known as “Liberators.” Though he was only 20 years old, he captained a crew of ten men during 47 perilous missions over the Alps to bomb German industrial facilities and Balkan oil fields. He never lost a plane or a crew member – a miraculous accomplishment.

Russell completed his interrupted education at Princeton University, graduating in the class of 1948. He then pursued an MBA at the Wharton School in Philadelphia. By that time, he had met a vivacious Vassar grad named Julie Harris from Danville, Virginia, and they were married in 1949. The couple headed back south to Macon, Georgia, where Russell began his career by working in the textile business. He also served at the nearby Warner-Robins Army base during the Korean War, supervising production of necessary military supplies. In 1952, Russell joined the prestigious management consulting firm of Booz, Allen and Hamilton and moved to New York. The company sent him to Egypt for six months to help establish that country’s cotton industry.

His entrepreneurial spirit led him to Jacksonville, Florida, in 1957, to partner with his younger brother, Fred (who died in 1971), in purchasing a small company called Southern Stores. The company marketed gasoline in six states under the Dixie Vim brand. Eventually, the company grew to include 70 gasoline stations and 23 tire stores. Because the gas stations were located throughout the Southeast, Russell used his wartime flying skills to pilot a series of small planes between locations, much to the delight of his children, who sometimes accompanied him and “helped” to fly.

The company was sold in 1968 to Charter Oil Company, where Russell took on the role of President until 1975. His next challenge was as Chairman and principal owner of Kern County Refinery, in Bakersfield, California, until selling it in 1981. Subsequently, Russell established Timucuan Asset Management, Inc, an investment company with interests in real estate, water purification, mortgage banking and portfolio management. Russell remained actively involved in the company well into his nineties.

Throughout his long business career, Russell provided dedicated leadership on many business, educational, and civic boards including: American Cancer Society, Florida National Bank, First Union National Bank, St Joe Company, Founding Board Member of Everbank, President of the Board of Directors of Riverside Hospital, Princeton University, Hampden Sydney College, The Bolles School, Jacksonville Housing Authority, The Schultz Center For Teaching and Leadership, and the University of Florida Medical College’s Proton Beam Facility.

In early 1999, Julie Newton died, and the following year Russell married Joannie Stein, a longtime family friend and matriarch of her own large family. Joannie’s three sons, Hap, Rick and Bobby, their wives, their children and grandchildren, swelled the already full family roster.  Russell is survived by his five children and their spouses: Helen (Raymond Hartung), Russell III (Kathy), Matthew (Vicki), Julie (Marc St. John), and William (Karla). He also leaves 11 grandchildren, plus their five spouses, and two great-grandchildren.

For a celebration of his 80th birthday, members of his family interviewed dozens of former colleagues, fellow soldiers and employees for a tribute. When asked to choose one word to describe Russell Newton, most of them said: “Integrity.”  Russell, an Eagle Scout in his youth, held himself to the highest standards of fairness and honesty. Other terms were “Loyalty” and “Hard Work.” Russell led by example, toiling side by side with his employees as he built his company. “Generosity” is another key characteristic. Russell has donated both time and treasure to numerous causes dear to his heart, especially education. From his time as a trustee of his alma mater, Princeton, to his fundraising efforts for Riverside Presbyterian Day School, to his support for underprivileged elementary schools, his commitment to improving educational opportunities has been paramount. “Smart” was another descriptor: to the end of his life, Russell was an avid student of history, reading complex biographies and studies of economic and political trends, and enjoying lively debates with all comers.

But the final adjective might be simply “great.” Though it would embarrass him to hear it, Russell Newton, with his unflinching service to his country, his unstinting generosity to his community, and his unfailing love for his family, was a great man.

The family owes a special debt of gratitude to nurses Rose Johnson, Carl Jordan, Zlatan Pecar, Stan Butler and Isis Belton as well as Lynn Peterson, Theo Johnson, Keith Knue, and Jack Revels for their compassionate and dedicated care. The family would also like to thank Mayo Clinic Hospital staff and Dr. Mike Stephens for their outstanding service. Memorial services will be held on March 21st at 11:00 am at Riverside Presbyterian Church, 849 Park Street, Jacksonville, Florida.  There will also be a zoom link available at https://rpcjax.org/. For anyone moved to honor Russell Newton’s life and legacy, the family suggests donations to Riverside Presbyterian Church.

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