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Gideon, Russell (1904-1985)

HistoryLink.org Essay 238 : Printer-Friendly Format

Russell Gideon was a Seattle businessman, a pharmacist, and a pioneer in senior housing. From 1977 until his death, he was recognized yearly by Ebony magazine as one of the nation's 100 most influential black citizens. A community leader and a man of great energy and charm, Russell Gideon used these personal attributes to advantage in pursing his many humanitarian and business interests.

Born October 9, 1904, in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, Canada, he moved with his family to Calgary, Alberta, when he was nine years old. He was an all star athlete in hockey, baseball, track, and football. By age 15 he was working after school as a drugstore delivery boy, and then on weekends playing drums in a five-piece band which he organized.

In 1932, Russell Gideon left Calgary for Boston in order to become a pharmacist. He entered school immediately after Massachusetts pharmacy schools finally admitted blacks, and graduated in 1941 from Western Massachusetts School of Pharmacy.

During World War II he served as a technical sergeant in the 366th Infantry Medical Corps in Africa and Italy. He and his wife, Lillian, moved to Seattle in 1946. He bought a drug store at 22nd Avenue and E Madison Street and operated it until 1963.

A pioneer in senior housing, Russell Gideon built the Elizabeth James House, named for his mother, at 23rd Avenue E and E Madison Street. He served as president of the East Madison-East Union Commercial Club and he organized the Central Area's Seafair Mardi Gras festivities.

He served on numerous boards, among them the Florence Crittenden Home, Seattle Urban League, Foundation for International Understanding through Students at the University of Washington, and the East Madison YMCA where he directed fundraising for the swimming expansion.

In 1963, Governor Albert Rosellini (1910-2011) appointed him to the Washington State Board of Prison Terms and Paroles. He was a charter member of the Central Area Kiwanis Club and a trustee at Mount Zion Baptist Church. At this writing (1998) a Gideon Tower is to be constructed in his memory.

National honor came to him as Sovereign Grand Commander of the United Supreme Council Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Prince Hall Affiliation, Northern Jurisdiction. In that post, he headed the 22,000 33rd degree Prince Hall Masons north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

A bust was commissioned in 1984 honoring his reign and was placed in the Masonic Cathedral's "Hall of Fame" in Philadelphia.

Russell Gideon died on September 29, 1985, and was interred in Sunset Memorial Park. On September 13, 1986, a housing facility for low income seniors and disabled residents was named the Gideon-Mathews Gardens in his honor. It is located in Seattle at 24th Avenue S and S Jackson Street.

Mary T. Henry, Tribute: Seattle Public Places Named for Black People (Seattle: Statice Press, 1997), 28, 29, 30.

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Russell Gideon (1904-1985)
Lillian Gideon

African American Mardi Gras with Queen Mary McAllister, celebrated in the Central Area during Seafair, Seattle, ca. 1955
Courtesy The Black Heritage Society of Washington State (Image 2001.07.2.06)

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