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Neal Russo


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[edit] Biographical Information

Neal Russo, a character equal to any sports legend that he covered for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, died early on Wednesday, March 6, 1996, of congestive heart failure. Mr. Russo left quietly in his sleep. That was in blunt opposition to the colorful, sleep-scorned life he led with a happy vengeance for 75 years.

"When he makes his way to heaven, God will be amused," said Lou Brock, a Cardinals Hall of Famer. "`He won't be bored with Neal. But of all the antics he went through, he was a darned good writer." Red Schoendienst, another Redbirds Hall of Famer, said, "He was very creative. I liked the way he took his notes. If you looked at them, you wouldn't know what they were, but he did."

Generations of St. Louisans knew him from his Cardinals and boxing stories in the Post-Dispatch, where he spent 43 eventful years.

P-D sports staffers Stephan and Jim Thomas grew up reading Mr. Russo. Stephan Thomas, 44, said, "When I started at the P-D, I told him, 'Neal, you more or less taught me and my brother how to read. When we came home from school when we were 6 or 7, the first thing we did was tear open the sports section and read your game story about the Cardinals.'"

Generations of athletes knew him by his gruff voice and gentle touch at the keyboard. "He was a nice fella, very nice," said Virgil Akins of St. Louis, a former world boxing champ who was a young amateur when befriended by Mr. Russo nearly 50 years ago. "He never criticized no one. If they were lacking in something, he'd just look over it."

Generations of friends knew him as the generous son of Italian immigrants who ran a grocery in Farrell, Pa. Russo earned a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania where he washed out test tubes to make ends meet.

"He did many, many favors for me through the years," said Jack Kelly of St. Louis, a friend since they met in the Army in 1944. "He did some strange things, I know, but he was very intelligent."

And generations of colleagues knew him for his wit, his wits and his wacky slant on everything.

"He was an intellectual giant," said P-D outdoor writer Tim Renken. "Nobody could ever remember him making a mistake. He'd make up the Sportsword crossword puzzle in his head on the way to work. I saw him do that, just scribble this thing out of his head while he was reading somebody else's copy." "And he could do them in Latin," added Amadee Wohlschlaeger, a former P-D artist and a friend for nearly 50 years.

Former managing editor Dave Lipman, chairman of Pulitzer/2000, said, "Neal had one of the quickest and most fertile minds I've ever encountered. I was always stunned by the depth of his knowledge. He taught me more than any journalism school." [1] Russo's brilliance notwithstanding, Russo was not above picking up some extra income, moonlighting as the Cardinal's official scorer, for 25 or so home games a year. [2]

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[edit] Notes

  1. Tom Wheatley: "Neal Russo, An Institution at Post, Dies," The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (March 7, 1996), p. 1D
  2. Jim Kaplan: "Do They Really Know the Score? Official scorers' decisions are almost always a hit with the home team, but the visitors feel that they often err," Sports Illustrated (July 24, 1978), pp. 73-74
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