Russell Hamilton Green Jr. was born January 9, 1924 in Long Beach, CA, passed away November 20, 2019. Parents Russell H. Green Sr. (born in Spreckels) and Miriam Amber Green (Saville, born in San Francisco) moved to Long Beach after marriage. In the mid-30s they built a lovely home on the bare hills of the Palos Verdes Peninsula with an extensive garden and orchard. After perhaps a surfeit of youth spent surfing at Redondo Beach and Bluff Cove with his Redondo High pal Ted Stevens, Russ joined the Navy during World War II. He thanked the Navy V12 program for sending him to the University of Texas to study his chosen field of petroleum engineering, and at war's end was sent to Hawaii and Guam. While awaiting assignment in Hawaii, he talked his commanding officer into allowing him to check in daily by phone from Waikiki where in his gregarious fashion he'd made friends among the surfers and was living in a beach shack.
Back from the war, he turned to work in the oil fields and the pursuit of Long Beach beauty Betty Jean Wallace, a Stanford grad in Central American Studies. They began their married life moving around West Texas for Russ' jobs on oilrigs. BJ kept up with classes at Texas and they had a wide circle of friends to meet up with for parties (with themes such as watching prairie dogs or admiring outsized hail). Eventually Russ was offered a job in the office at Signal Oil and Gas, and they moved back to Redondo and then to Portuguese Bend with their young daughter Alison. As daughter Clare and son Clay were born, Russ moved up to be Vice President of Foreign Exploration and Production at Signal. He traveled to Tunisia, Kuwait, Venezuela, Argentina and wherever oil might be found during the pioneering era of opening those markets to American oil and gas companies. Signal decided to go conglomerate in 1968, and though Russ was President of the oil company, he decided to take on a new challenge. He quit Signal and took on the daunting task of restoring the once grand Simi Winery of Healdsburg.
Family members had owned summer cabins along the Russian River in Healdsburg and Rio Nido since 1910 and in the 50s Russ' parents bought a house on Fitch Mountain. Camping, fishing, and canoeing were yearly summertime pastimes as well as enjoying such big bands as Benny Goodman at Rio Nido.
In 1959 Russ bought an Alexander Valley ranch on the river and several years later planted wine grapes and by the mid-60s more land and vineyard followed. By 1968, Napa Valley had passed laws reducing the percentage of grapes wineries could crush from other areas, so Russ and BJ plunged into the wine industry.
Simi had fallen into disrepair but the project of a lifetime was a great fit for Russ' energetic leadership. Enormous redwood tanks were milled into fragrant siding for the new tasting room. With a new sunken crush pad built, a rebuilt Healdsburg Machine crusher/destemmer and must pump, the winery started making great wines once more. Coming in from the outside was a real risk at the time, but by founding the Alexander Valley Association with other neighbors, and applying for an appellation for Alexander Valley, he ensured rural character and high-quality standards for wines.
Russ was never shy about raising money for causes he believed in, from politics to preserving the Alexander Valley Hall and building the Alexander Valley Fire House (with engine). He attended classes at UC Davis in winemaking, and at Simi he put in a bank of stainless-steel tanks, made wonderful Rose of Cabernet, and hired Andre Tchellistcheff as consultant to help Mary Ann Graff make wine. Mary Ann was the first woman winemaker hired outside a family on her own qualifications, quietly making history. In 1974, Russ sold the winery to Scottish & Newcastle and soon rejoined his beloved oil business as an independent, but continued to run the ranch and grow grapes for the rest of his life.
Russ had many interests, from surfing to singing. One of his best memories was the 1937 nationwide train trip to the Boy Scout Jamboree in Washington DC where FDR spoke and other stops such as Detroit where Henry Ford met them. The Bob Pyles Boy's camp in the Sequoia Forest was another cause he strongly believed in. When he first headed the board, he didn't believe in sedentary board meetings and marched the board into camp at his pace, fondly referred to as the Bataan Death March. He loved riding with Rancheros Visitadores and the Trailblazers. With an uncanny recall of all verses of a nearly endless supply of American Standards, he loved singing at the Bohemian Grove and anywhere there was a piano. He loved Hawaiian music and culture. Blessed with abundant energy and good health, he loved skiing, running in the Bay to Breakers, bushwhacking trails up creeks and to the river and he could build a brick barbeque or a stone wall or a palapa or barn. He loved hiking and tennis, he could sail boats and loved to drive and explore. A practitioner of the work hard, play hard ethic, he loved life, he loved having a great time, and he loved his friends and family.
Survived by Betty Jean, his wife of 71 years, Alison (Mark) Doran, Clare, Clay, grandchildren Matt and Patrick Doran. Buried at Oak Mound Cemetery, Healdsburg.
A celebration will be held at 1 p.m. on Sunday, January 26 at the Alexander Valley Community Hall, 5512 Hwy 128, Geyserville.
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