The tennis world in general and college tennis in particular suffered a substantial and unexpected loss yesterday when referee Jim Russell, known as Big Jim to one and all, died at his home in Belton, South Carolina at age 67.
Russell was the tournament referee for the NCAA Division I men's championships for 22 years, and also served in that capacity for the ITA Men's All-American Championships and the USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championships. I also saw Russell every year at the US Open, where he was in charge of the Champions Invitational event for past tennis greats, and I'm sure that's just a fraction of the tournaments he was involved in. He also was a big part of USTA junior tennis in South Carolina, and served as president of the South Carolina Tennis Association and the USTA Southern section, in addition to his work on numerous USTA national committees. He was inducted into the USTA Southern section Hall of Fame in 2005 and the ITA College Tennis Hall of Fame in 2003. For more on Russell's early background, see this biographical entry at the Belton Tennis Center website, which was published when he was inducted into the South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame in 1991.
In his classic Southern drawl, Russell could make any conversation easy listening, whether he was telling a story or making a ruling on the court. As knowledgeable as he was gracious, Russell was never at a loss, and his ability to listen first and decide later made him the perfect person to wield the power of a referee.
Compared to many others, my acquaintance with Russell was brief, but it took me less than seven days to realize what a special person he was when I first met him at the 2005 NCAAs. His passing leaves college tennis with a huge gap, one that will be felt for a very long time.
The following funeral arrangements have been made: Visitation at the home (717 Brown Avenue, Belton, SC) Thursday 6:00 to 8:00. Service at the Belton Presbyterian Church (405 Holmes Street, Belton, SC) Friday morning at 11:00 followed by a graveside service at the Belton Cemetery (Anderson Street, Belton, SC).
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to your choice of: Belton Presbyterian Church, PO Box 601, Belton, SC 29627; South Carolina Tennis Patrons Foundation, PO Box 843, Belton, SC 29627; or Belton Rescue Squad, 107 South Main Street, Belton, SC 29627.