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Obituary: Theodore Russ Dunn

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Posted at 11:20 AM, Oct 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-01 13:20:17-04

Theodore Russ Dunn passed away September 1, 2021, while grouse hunting near the Continental Divide on land bordering Big Sheep Creek MT. He was 83 years old.

Russ was born March 28, 1938, in Colon Panama to Captain Theodore Lamar Dunn and Marie Russ Dunn. He attended George Washington High School in Alexandria, VA and was most proud of being a member of the Old Dominion Rowing Club and of winning the National High School Championship for eight-oared shells in 1956. After graduation he followed his family tradition and became a cadet at West Point, graduating in 1960 with a degree in engineering.

In 1960, cadets were given the choice of entering the Marine Corps or the Army for their tour of duty. Russ chose the Marines and after training at Camp LeJune, N.C. he began tours in the Mediterranean and eventually became a tank commander serving at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. At loose ends after his military service and after many harrowing adventures in his old Pontiac convertible, he survived long enough to make the decision to study law and enrolled at Georgetown University Law School. There he found his true calling and after graduating with highest honors and becoming an editor of the Law Review, he graduated in 1965. He married Pat Lyon in 1962 and had two children, Jennifer Ann and John Warren. He was later divorced.

Always looking for an adventure, Russ chose Alaska to begin his law practice. In 1969 he co-founded the firm of Dunn Bailey and Matthews. Russ distinguished himself as a trial attorney specializing in aviation and product failure cases. He won numerous precedent-setting awards and helped to establish the law of strict products liability in Alaska.

Russ was an active and effective conservationist. He founded the Alaska chapter of Trout Unlimited. His persistent advocacy for catch and release fishing regulations was initially strongly resisted by State officials, but ultimately he prevailed. As a result, many of Alaska's premier trout streams were placed under catch and release management. Russ was a board member of the Alaska Conservation Society and he served on the small ad hoc committee that was instrumental in establishing the 500,000-acre Chugach State Park near Anchorage. His name is inscribed on a plaque at the Park entrance.

Russ fly fished throughout the state and took a yearly float trip with friends on wilderness rivers that were memorable for spicy food, derisive limericks, and occasional episodes of sheer survival. He briefly owned and flew a floatplane. But he gave up flying in favor of a long and happy life soon after he landed long on the largest lake in the state and put a wing through a shed that was the only building within 10 miles. He enjoyed climbing mountains and cross country skiing. He most loved upland game hunting and walking the ridges of south-central Alaska.

After 16 years in Alaska, Russ decided to see what living in the "lower 48" would be like and moved to Bozeman in 1978. He knew his love of the law was paramount but he also knew that he needed a place to getaway. It was then that he and 4 friends from Alaska purchased a small ranch, built at the turn of the century, near Dell, MT. A log cabin, log barn, bunkhouse, and Big Sheep Creek trout stream fit the bill. It was a place of stunning beauty and quiet solitude where the fish were plenty and the grouse were always accommodating.

Once settled in Bozeman, Russ began a partnership with Jim Goetz and Bill Madden forming the firm Goetz Madden and Dunn. After Russ purchased the Ketterer Building, he and his partners spent many nights sanding the old wood floors and imbibing dubious whiskey. He later sold the building to the practice.

In 1983 he married Ruth Attebury and together they had two sons, Thomas Joseph "Joe" and Robert Edward "Rob." After a devastating bout with Lymphoma in 1997, Russ left Montana and returned to his beloved Virginia to find peace and try to recuperate. Sea air and outside activity seemed to help him heal. Russ was not one to be idle long.

After settling in Harborton, Virginia, a small fishing village on the Chesapeake Bay, he bought an old Norwegian sea captains' house with an attic on the third floor and access to a "widows walk" above that. While he slowly renovated the house Russ had to board up the ceiling on that third floor to keep his young sons from taking their friends on tours of the roof. Many Montana friends visited during those six years and were treated to soft shell crabs, freshly picked crab meat from local watermen, and boat trips to the barrier islands.

Not about to waste all the seawater around him, Russ decided to introduce the students at his sons’ school to the sport of rowing. The only problem being, they had no boat and no equipment. After calling the Naval Academy, Russ was told there was a used four-seat shell available. Wasting no time and with his family in tow, he was off the next week to bring back this boat. Driving from Annapolis back to Virginia at night on the busiest highway between New York and Florida with a large boat and trailer was a testament to his commitment. Russ' first-year crew team did not fare well. The second-year was spectacular with his crew winning first place in the Novice division at the Broad Bay Challenge in Norfolk, VA.

As a private citizen, Russ continued to fight corporate interests, including one firm seeking to dump trash on a historic island in the Chesapeake Bay. State officials had quietly approved it. Russ personally fought against the project with his own meticulous approach and prevailed at stopping the entire effort.

In 2003 he felt strong enough to return to Montana and began an Of Council practice in Bozeman with Mike Cok and Mike Wheat at Cok Wheat Brown and McGarry, and later with Mike Cok and Travis Kinzler at Cok Kinzler. Russ had previously been inducted into the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers and was honored by the Montana Trial Lawyers Association with its Career Achievement Award.

As a preeminent lawyer and with excellent co-counsels in Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming he achieved judgments against Boeing Aircraft, Volkswagen Corp., The Alaska Pipeline, Bell Helicopter, Honda Motors, Caterpillar Corp., and General Motors. Russ was a risk-taker who had little use for convention or propriety and ably rose to the challenge of technical cases where he could match his engineering knowledge as well as his legal acumen against much larger foes.

Russ fully retired in 2013 and in spite of various health issues, he spent the last several years doing what he had done as a boy and a young man, cherishing the outdoors and causing mayhem whenever he could. He was a loyal friend and a man who always brought a dry sense of humor to any situation he encountered.

He is survived by his wife of 38 years, Ruth; his sons, Joe and Robert of Bozeman; his daughter, Jennifer and her husband Toby Day of Bozeman; son, John, his wife Heather, and granddaughters, Virginia and Lorielei, all of Denver. Also his cousins, Joe Russ of Fort Collins, CO, Bill Russ (Jenny) of Spring, TX, and Lynne Jamieson (Bill) of Washington, D.C.; and his closest and most trusted friend, Rich Anderson of Billings. Russ was predeceased by his father, Theodore Dunn, and his mother, Marie Dunn.

Cremation has taken place and memorials may be made to the American Heart Association, the Nature Conservancy, or your charity of choice.