From The Top – An Unsung Hero

Paralyzed Veterans of America’s national president takes a look into the life of Jim Russell

By David Zurfluh


Any month is a great time to highlight a veteran’s story. But with Veterans Day, November is obviously an even better occasion. And Jim Russell’s story is one of the most impressive I have ever seen and experienced.

Jim was someone who reminded me of a tall, mature tree, that when you look inside, you see a vast number of year rings that were full of life experiences and not very many wasted days. If Jim could have had more hours in a day, he would have filled them.

I gathered information from many sources to write this article about Jim, including the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Cal-Diego Chapter’s Beachcomber newsletter, PVA Gateway Chapter President Stan Brown, past PN issues and my own personal experiences. This will read like an obituary and résumé because of Jim’s passing this past January, but what he accomplished in 79 years was truly amazing.

Jim was the epitome of service to country, family, community and veterans. I met him through PVA shooting competitions and national meetings when he was a national director for the Cal-Diego Chapter.

He was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident in 1978 and medically retired from the Marine Corps. Like many PVA members, he contemplated his future. He eventually decided to go back to school, started farming, raised a family and became involved with PVA.

Jim was someone who was highly organized, professional and when he spoke, he would grab people’s attention.

He had a gift of being balanced when he debated, and he was to the point. When he was wrong, he would admit it and always stated the words, “I stand corrected,” at meetings or in groups.

He served on numerous PVA committees, including two of the most prominent — the Audit Committee as vice chairman and the Judicial Committee as chairman. He was never drunk with power, but he understood the gravity of the decisions/rulings and importance of making sure the process was thorough and fair. Jim was also a great leader who knew the value of bringing newer and younger people to PVA, and he encouraged those young people he met to understand that they were the next leaders of this country.

One impressive feature I saw Jim display at many PVA national meetings was no matter how hard you fought and debated with him, he always treated you respectfully and rarely, if ever, made it personal. He also would often pull out PVA’s guidebooks and read from them while trying to hammer home his point.

His knowledge of PVA guidelines, rules and policy was second to few in our organization. Jim confided in me that he believed in second chances with people and respected those who took ownership of their wrongdoings and turned their lives around to the positive. 

Outside of his national/chapter duties, Jim was an avid hunter and accomplished competitive shooter who won and placed in many handgun, rifle and shotgun sporting events. He also was a very serious artist who specialized in gourd art. 

Like many heroes and great leaders, Jim came from humble beginnings and could break down the complexities of life into simple terms and values. He could also instill those simple values in others.

On the next page is a vast résumé of Jim’s life and many accomplishments, but I will end with what he told many people on many occasions, and will always be remembered for saying — “Be well, my friend.”


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