Russell M. Bennett II performed his first act of community service when he was 8. That set the foundation for a life built around helping others that carried on a family tradition of public service.
A family and business lawyer who specialized in corporate and estate planning for 55 years with the Minneapolis firm of Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty and Bennett, he chaired two of the largest fundraising drives ever conducted at the University of Minnesota and gave his support and advice to organizations such as Hennepin County United Way, the Downtown Minneapolis Rotary Club, the Minneapolis chapter of the American Red Cross, and the Blake School.
"He felt a moral duty to give back to the community," said his daughter Robin Schoenwetter of Plymouth.
Bennett died of cancer Wednesday at his home in Excelsior. He was 80.
His long service résumé included leading the fundraising behind the Minnesota Campaign and Campaign Minnesota, two initiatives that brought in more than $2 billion for student scholarships, endowed faculty professorships and research facilities at the U, Bennett's alma mater.
"He was fabulous and awesome," said Jerry Fisher, past president and CEO of the University of Minnesota Foundation. "He loved nothing more than presenting the opportunity to invest in building one of the world's greatest universities. He believed that [the U] was important for Minnesota's future, economic vitality and quality of life."
Bennett, a Minneapolis West High School graduate, started at the Minneapolis law firm 1954. He was named partner in 1961, and his name was added to the firm's title in 1977.
"He gave exceptional judgment to clients," said John Mooty, one of the firm's namesakes. "He was greatly respected and kind to everybody."
Bennett used his legal background as a board member and trustee at the Church of St. Therese of Deephaven, signing the legal documents when that congregation constructed its sanctuary. He served as mayor of Deephaven from 1962 to 1963 and helped craft an ordinance that required parkland to be set aside when housing developments were planned, said his wife of 58 years, Elizabeth.
He was past vice president, president and a 50-year member of the Minneapolis Club, president of the Woodhill Country Club, founding board member of the Minnesota Outward Bound School, and a trustee of Lakewood Cemetery and the Skylight Club. He was a commodore at the Minnetonka Yacht Club, where he won several A Class sailing championships.
At age 70, Bennett sailed across the Atlantic Ocean solo in White Wings, the trimaran he spent six years designing, Elizabeth said.
In addition to his wife and daughter Robin, Bennett is survived by another daughter, Mary Carlton, of Chanhassen; two sisters, Mary Long of McLean, Va., and Lillian Markoe of Wayzata; a brother, Thomas, of Minneapolis; a stepbrother, Robert Gable, of Frankfort, Ky., and three grandchildren.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Basilica of St. Mary, 16th Street and Hennepin Avenue S., Minneapolis.