For more than six decades Joseph Russ provided dignity and a loving touch for families dealing with the death of a loved one. Sometimes with a little humor.
More often than not, a little irreverent humor. But always with great care.
This week Russ died quietly in his sleep in his apartment above his funeral home on North Avenue. He was 98 years old.
“We all called him Uncle Joe,” said Hari Close, president of the Maryland State Board of Morticians. “He helped so many people, including me. He was a pillar in the community and he is definitely going to be missed,” Close added.
Russ operated the Joseph L. Russ Funeral Home at 2222 W. North Avenue from 1950 until his death.
“Even now, as I think of him, a sea of faces comes before me as I remember that he helped people facing crisis at the hand of death find life and hope through the heart of a man who cares,” said the Rev. Dr. Cleveland T.A. Mason III, pastor of Perkins Square Baptist Church on Edmondson Avenue.
“He who has served many of our congregations now goes to God to reap his reward in Christ Jesus,” Rev. Mason said, also representing the Pastors Conference of Baltimore.
“It is hard to believe that he so quickly slipped away from us.”
His body will be on view at his funeral home, noon to 6 p.m., April 21 and 2 to 6 p.m., April 22. On Monday, April 23 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., viewing will convene at his home church Ames Memorial United Methodist Church at 615 Baker Street.
Russ will then be on view at Providence Baptist Church at 1901 Pennsylvania Avenue from 3 to 6 p.m., Monday, April 23, with a special service beginning at 6:30 p.m. The numerous organizations Russ belonged to will preside, including the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, the Masons, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) the Knights of Columbus and Epsilon Nu Delta, a fraternal organization of funeral directors.
The funeral service for Russ will be Tuesday, April 24 at Providence Baptist. The wake will begin at 11 a.m. and the funeral service will begin at 12 noon. He will be buried at the Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.
“There are very few (funeral directors) that will share how they do what they do in their operation. He would always be willing to assist, that was very rare,” Close said.
“He kept his hand open never closed it.”