When you hear people from South Minneapolis talk about the music of the 1970s and ’80s, you will hear them mention names like Prince, Jimmy Jam and Cornbread Harris. When they talk about local sports, they applaud local heroes like Earl Bowman, Doug Demmings, Coach Robinson and Russell Gary.
For me personally, Russell Gary, was more than another of Minnesota’s great athletes. I saw him as also someone who had earned an elite status, that of a “man’s man.”
What is a man’s man? He’s been described as “the kind of man that anyone can point to as an example of what a man should aspire to be like.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a man’s man as “a man noted or admired for traditionally masculine interests and activities.”
Gary died of a heart-attack March 10 at age 59 after working out at a gym. I am writing this memorial to pay my respects to one of Minnesota’s greats and someone who for me fits this definition of a man’s man.
He graduated from Central High in 1977 asa three-time letter-winner in track, basketball and football. He earned two scholarship opportunities in both basketball and football.
Gary chose football at the University of Nebraska under the legendary Coach Tom Osborne. As a freshman, he started as a running back; his sophomore year he returned as a safety; and after that, the rest is history.
In 1980, Gary was named an All-Big Eight defensive back. In 1981, he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints and played there for six years. He gave one more year to the Philadelphia Eagles before retiring from professional football in 1987.
After retirement, Gary dedicated his life to the inner-city youth of Minneapolis and St. Paul. He worked with the Minneapolis Public Schools creating football clinic programs that would change and enhance the lives of many African American boys. One such program was the University of Minnesota’s ACE program that served over 1,500 African American boys in Minneapolis.
From 2004 to the time of his passing, Gary was a well-known defensive back coach at Concordia College in Saint Paul. In 2013 he was was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame.
Gary used his football craft and other sports to deliver messages such as “Be real!” to the youth he coached and mentored. He often preached that “Football doesn’t last, but education will,” “Do and be all you can be,” and lastly, “Be true to yourself.”
Says Terryann Nash, a friend of the family, “Russell Gary was a man who inspired us all to be better than great! Though his love and dedication to the community, he inspired our inner greatness.” For these reasons and many more, Gary will be sorely missed by his community as a man’s man who was widely admired and respected by the countless people young and old whose lives he changed.
Visitation for Russell Gary will be held Friday, March 29, 2019, 6 to 9 pm at Estes Funeral Home Chapel, 2201 Plymouth Ave. N., Minneapolis. Funeral service will be held Saturday, March 30, 2019, 12 to 1 pm at Calvary Baptist Church, 2608 Blaisdell Ave., Minneapolis.