Albert “Al” Joseph Russo, former Rhode Island State Senator and businessman, died at home on October 9, 2019. He was born exactly ninety years prior on October 9, 1929 in Edgewood, New Jersey to Joseph and Anna Russo. In 1933, his family moved to Woodville, Rhode Island where his father started Chickadee Farms, Inc., a small family business with 200 chickens.
Al received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Rhode Island (’51) and Master of Science from University of New Hampshire (’53). In 1955 he married Nancy Tasca, who predeceased him in 2013, and together they shared 58 years raising a family and working together in the Chickadee businesses.
In the late 1960s, Al became president of Chickadee Farms, Inc. and took the farm from its humble 200-bird beginning to the largest poultry and egg processing facility in RI. Always the innovator, Al saw an opportunity for expansion when the Blue Moon Tea Room was for sale in Dunns Corners, Westerly. In 1969, he opened Chicken by Chickadee Farms, a delicatessen and specialty foods store. The flagship store grew to include a successful catering business operated by Nancy. Over the next twenty years, Al opened several additional retail stores and restaurants in southern RI and CT. The business was sold in 1989, but its spirit lives on as Dunns Corners Market operated by former Chickadee employees Tony and Cheryl Spino.
In addition to being a leader in the business community, Al was a strong contributor to the civic life and government of Rhode Island. As a politician, he served as a member of the Hopkinton school committee and represented South County as a Republican State Senator from 1983 to 1992. During his tenure in the senate, he was Deputy Minority Leader from 1985 to1990 and Minority Leader from 1991 to 1992. Al’s proudest political accomplishment was spearheading the Chariho Regional Middle School project in 1986, which ended double sessions and overcrowding at the junior-senior high school.
Al’s additional civic and business participation included being president of Northeastern Poultry Producers Council (NEPPCO) and an active member of the Westerly Rotary Club, as well as sitting on the Board of Directors of Westerly Savings and Loan.
Al retired to Orlando in 1994 where he joined the Holy Cross Catholic Church, serving as head usher and playing an integral role on the Stewardship committee during the construction of the then-new church. After moving back to Westerly in 2009, he enjoyed volunteering at the Westerly Health Center, watching the Red Sox or Patriots, reading, and gardening with his partner, Elaine Lee.
Al is survived by his children: Robert and his wife, Cindy; Joanne; Didi; and Patti and her husband, Steve. He was the proud grandfather of seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren. He is also survived by his partner of three years, Elaine, and his brother John. Al is predeceased by his brother Jordan.
Visitation hours are from 4 to 7 PM on Friday, October 11 at the Buckler-Johnston Funeral Home in Westerly. The a Mass of Christian Burial will follow at 11 AM on Saturday, October 12 at St. Clare’s Church in Westerly. Memorial contributions may be made in Al’s name to the Maddie Potts Foundation: P.O. Box 539 Hope Valley, RI 02832.
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