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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Work, travel or play - he had a lust for life
By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published August 18, 2007
TAMPA - He worked.
Russell Williams was "that guy," the one you saw hanging off power poles in the middle of blizzards. His job? Restoring phone service to the city of Chicago in bad weather.
He fell into the job after a turn in the military. It was steady, but he didn't care much for defying death in the freezing cold.
Still, he did what he had to. It was his lot from a young age.
When Russell was a boy in the 1920s, his father died in a trolley accident. Russell sold newspapers and worked odd jobs to help his family.
He would have rather played basketball, but it wasn't in the cards.
In Florida, he stayed in the phone business, working his way into management at GTE. He wore fine suits and ties - even won a "best dressed" award at his company, his son said.
He was the consummate manager.
"He was a very take-charge type of person," said his son, Gregory Williams. "But he was very friendly and outgoing."
In the 1950s, Russell and his son built a house in North Tampa. Russell worked hard, pausing occasionally to crack a joke. If he slammed his thumb, he'd spout his favorite saying, a sanitized curse word replacement: "You miserable puke!"
He was organized and efficient. He drew outlines of all the tools on his pegboard.
"If any of his tools were missing, he'd know right away," Gregory said.
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Russell and his wife, Marge, loved to go out. On the weekends, they'd party at swanky nightspots around Tampa.
Russell hosted company fetes. He'd work the room, making sure the music was cranked and the food was flowing.
Margaret died in 1981. He cared for her as her cancer spread, and he mourned for a long time after she was gone.
But then, he flew.
He hung out at clubs and restaurants in the Busch Gardens area. He got to know a spectrum of ladies. They told him he looked like Frank Sinatra.
"I think he was just trying to have fun and spread his wings," his son said. "A single man out to have fun."
One woman pulled him back in.
Russell and Jan Williams were set up by friends about 10 years ago. She was younger, and shared his lust for life.
They married, and together, traveled the world. They went to Russia, Egypt, China, Antarctica and around the tip of South America.
But the trips were cut short. Cancer that Russell battled 13 years earlier returned. He died on Aug. 15, at age 84.
Survivors: Wife, Jan; children, Barbara and Gregory; daughter-in-law, Sammie; grandsons, Jonathan, Steven and Gavin; great-grandson, Trenton; stepchildren, Beth, Barbe, and David; stepgranddaughters, Caryn and Kelley.
Services: 11 a.m., Monday, Corpus Christi Catholic Church, 9715 N. 56th St., Temple Terrace.