Robert F. "Bob" Russ, a top rocket fuel expert at Aerojet who was a longtime leader in Shriners groups, died of cancer on May 23, his 77th birthday, his family said.
Mr. Russ began his aerospace career as a bright young chemist at a critical time in America, several months after the Soviet Union set off the space race with its Sputnik satellite. He joined Aerojet in Sacramento right out of college in 1958 and spent 30 years in solid propellant research and development.
"Bob was very serious and dedicated," retired Aerojet colleague Jerry Lewelling said. "At that time, solid fuel rocketry was a relatively new field. He had a great work ethic."
Mr. Russ also spent four years with Aerojet's international division in Taiwan and France as chief scientist for technology transfer and production. His professional achievements were honored by the U.S. Army Missile Command and the solid rocket technical committee of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Mr. Russ was active in Shriners for more than 50 years. After becoming a Mason in 1957, he joined the Sacramento Scottish Rite and Ben Ali Shrine in 1962. He served as an aide to many Ben Ali potentates, or presidents, and was a leader in the Lions Head unit.
An avid golfer, he chaired the Shrine Fall Classic Golf Tournament fundraiser for four years. He volunteered as a tour guide at Shriners Hospital for Children in Sacramento for 14 years.
"Bob was very quiet and unassuming, but he was devoted to everything he did in the Shrine," former Ben Ali potentate Jerry Culver said. "He would bend over backward to get something done."
Born May 23, 1936, in Portland, Ore., Mr. Russ grew up as an only child in California and Washington state. He played sports in high school and college.
He graduated from Bellevue High School in Washington and Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. He spent college summers working with his grandparents and parents at their family's mortuary in Weed.
He was married for 36 years to his wife, Billie, and adopted two children. He retired from Aerojet in 1992 and lived in Citrus Heights.
Besides his wife, Mr. Russ is survived by his children, Teresa Bouldin of Roseville, and Greg of Pine Grove; stepdaughters, Karen Fisher of Folsom, Janine Coon of Walkersville, Md., Sandra Galloway of El Dorado Hills, Jill Ray of Orangevale, and Linda Arth of El Dorado; 29 grandchildren; and 35 great-grandchildren.
A celebration of life is set for 3 p.m. Friday at Ben Ali Shrine Center, 3262 Marysville Blvd., Sacramento. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Shriners Ben Ali Transportation Fund, P.O. Box 41-4477, Sacramento, CA 95821.
Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.