Russell Evans Bennett Jr. was born in Cheraw, S.C., on April 7, 1926, and died Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023. He was 96 years old. He was the son of the late Russell Evans and Mary Ella Gandy Bennett. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his daughter and son-in-law, Leslie and Ricky Fetner, of Rockingham; son, Russell Evans Bennett III, of Rockingham; and his brother, Robert (Bob) Bennett, of Cheraw, S.C.
Surviving are his loving wife, Joan Ramsey Bennett, of Penick Village, Southern Pines; stepchildren, Susan Wood and husband, David, of Pinehurst, Adam Hardison, of Charlotte, Bryan Hardison, of Charlotte, Julie Sullivan, of Orlando, Fla., Carol Hardison, of Taos, N.M.; and their children and grandchildren; nephews, Robby Bennett and wife, Lindsay, of Cheraw, S.C., Paul Bennett, of Cheraw, S.C., Mac Bennett and wife, Leslie, of Beaufort, S.C.; and their children and grandchildren.
Russell graduated from Cheraw High School and attended Davidson College prior to going into the U.S. Navy, during World War II. Following his naval service, he attended the University of South Carolina.
In 1947, he went into the automobile business with his father. In 1948, he was awarded a Chevrolet-Buick franchise by General Motors in Hamlet. At that time, he was the youngest person to be awarded a General Motors franchise. In 1949, Russell opened a new Chevrolet dealership in Rockingham. Russell was a franchised dealer for over 48 years, during which time he was active in the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association, serving four terms as a director and served as treasurer. He served on numerous dealer factory planning committees with Chevrolet and Buick. Russell always enjoyed a close relationship with the employees of his dealership. He referred to the employees as “working with them” and not working “for him.” He sold his dealership in 1996.
Russell felt strongly that one should give something back to his community. He became involved in philanthropy both personally and through foundations. He was a benefactor of Richmond Community College, significantly the Cole Auditorium and Grimsley Health and Science building. He served multiple terms on the Richmond Community College Foundation Board.
He gave generously of his time to Richmond Memorial Hospital, later to become FirstHealth Richmond Memorial. He first joined the hospital board in 1950, and served many terms as a trustee and served as chairman for several terms. In 2005, he was honored by the North Carolina Hospital Association as their Trustee of the Year and was presented their Trustee Merit award.
Russell served on the board of Foundation for the Carolinas, in Charlotte. He served on the advisory board and was chair of the Cole Foundation. He also served on the board of the Richmond Community Foundation, where he also served as chairman. Both Foundations serve the needs of the people of Richmond County and played a major role in helping bring Discovery Place Kids to Rockingham.
After FirstHealth of the Carolinas bought Richmond Memorial Hospital in Rockingham, Russell was elected to the FirstHealth Board of Directors and when his terms expired, he was elected to the board of trustees of the Foundation of FirstHealth. He was a member of The Scroll Society of the Foundation of FirstHealth.
Russell was active in the civic life of Rockingham. He joined the Rockingham Rotary Club in 1950, and served numerous terms as a director and served as its president in 1957-1958. At one time, he enjoyed a perfect attendance for five consecutive years of Rotary. He was honored by fellow Rotarians as a Distinguished Rotarian. He was a Paul Harris Fellow and was a Rotary benefactor.
Russell served on the Rockingham City Council from 1957-59.
Russell was involved in other businesses, and especially involved with the Richmond Savings Bank prior to its merger with First National Bank. He served as a director of that bank for 25 years. Russell served as director of Farmers Bank and Trust, later Southern National Bank. He served on The First Union Bank Advisory Board.
Russell was honored by the Richmond Community College as their Distinguished Citizen of Year award in 1997.
He was honored by the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce for their Citizen of the Year award in 1998.
Russell was awarded The Order of The Long Leaf Pine in 2013 by Governor Pat McCrory.
Russell was a lifelong Presbyterian. He served his church as an elder, deacon and men’s Bible class Sunday School teacher. He served on the Building and Planning Committee when the sanctuary of the Rockingham Presbyterian Church was built.
Russell was a member of Pinehurst Country Club and a former member of The Country Club of North Carolina, where he enjoyed many years of playing golf. He looked forward to attending the Masters for many years with wife, Joan, brothers-in-law, Claude Ramsey and his wife, Kay, of Asheville, and Jimmy Ramsey and his wife, Gretchen, of Tupelo, Miss. He enjoyed time spent at their home in Pawley’s Island and later at Litchfield by the Sea and Country Club with family and friends. He also enjoyed traveling with family and friends.
To the next generation of leaders and philanthropists, Russell always said, “Don’t stand in the wings. Come forward. Become part of your community in whatever way you think best. Say, I have something to offer and I’m willing to offer it. I’m going to participate to make things better.”
The family of Russell Bennett would like to thank Penick Village, FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital and FirstHealth Hospice for their assistance in his loving care. We would like to thank Russell for always being there for us and all his love. We were all so blessed to be a part of his life. He was a true Southern Gentleman who was loved by all.
A memorial service to celebrate Russell will be held on Saturday, Jan. 14, at 2 p.m., at First Presbyterian Church, Rockingham, led by Dr. Allison Farrah. The family will receive friends in the fellowship hall following the service.
Memorials may be made to Foundation of First Health and First Health Outpatient Comprehensive Cancer Center, 150 Applecross Road, Pinehurst, NC 28374; FirstHealth Hospice, 150 Applecross Road, Pinehurst, NC 28374; First Presbyterian Church, 904 Fayetteville Road, Rockingham, NC 28379; or Richmond Community College Foundation, P.O. Box 1189, Hamlet, NC 28345