Published in the Los Angeles Times from Dec. 25 to Dec. 26, 2014
Jan Rus December 29, 1922 - November 24, 2014
December 29, 1922 - November 24, 2014 Jan Rus of Laguna
Hills, California died on November 24th, just short of his 92nd
Born in Chicago, he lived most of his life in Washington, D.C.
where he grew up. He returned to the D.C. area in 1968 and
worked as a campaign advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford and
Reagan. In the intervening years (1952-1967) he lived in Orange
County, California, to which he and his wife Mary Jean returned
after retiring in 1989.
In his youth, Mr. Rus was a member of D.C.'s national Boy Scout Troop 1 and fulfilled the
Eagle Scout requirements in the minimum time. As a scout, in 1939 he was selected to
present the official bouquet to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their state visit
to the White House. Following his graduation from Western High School in D.C. in the
fall of 1941, he began his college career at George Washington University. Like most
men in his class, however, he left school in his second semester and served in the U.S.
Navy aboard the destroyer escort USS Scott.
Decades later he said the best thing to come of that first short college career was that he
joined the Sigma Chi Fraternity, of which he became a "Life Loyal" member. Following
World War II Mr. Rus studied electrical engineering at Cornell and law at Denver
University. In 1952, with the aerospace industry beginning to take off, he and his young
family moved to Southern California where he took a job at North American Aviation. By
the end of the 1950s, he was NAA's corporate director of engineering personnel
responsible for hiring many of the engineers who took the company from manufacturing
the F-86 Sabre Jet in the 1950s through its role as principal contractor of the Apollo
Program in the 1960s.
A fiercely competitive boy and man, beyond his work life, many of his stories about all
those years were about sports -- about pitching for the destroyer escort USS Scott that
won the baseball fleet championship in 1944, for example, or playing varsity football and
lacrosse at Cornell in 1948. His combination of management expertise and sports lie at
the heart of Mr. Rus' voluntary career as an organizer of amateur athletic teams and
events. Until the mid-1950s, almost all US Olympic athletes had been college, or
occasionally, high school students. Amateur athletes were forbidden to receive pay for
their sports, even as coaches, so most men and women stopped competing in their early
20s after graduating. In 1955 an old friend from Cornell, Meredith Gourdine, silver
medalist in the 1952 Olympic long jump, asked Mr. Rus to assist with the formal
organization of a track and field team being pulled together by college graduates who
wanted to prepare for a shot at the 1956 Olympics. the Southern California Striders was
formed and quickly attracted enough graduate athletes to become the most powerful
track team in the U.S., and next to the U.S. national team, arguably the world, winning 8
straight U.S. national team titles between 1956 and 1963, with Mr. Rus as its President.
In the summer of 1968, Mr. Rus joined other Californians in Richard Nixon's presidential
campaign. After President Nixon's inauguration, he was appointed a consultant to and
revamped the management system of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and
Sports. Over the next 21 years, among his roles with the federal government, he
organized goodwill trips abroad for U.S. teams and athletes, and arranged and
accompanied more than 3000 amateur and professional athletes on White House tours
and Oval Office audiences with Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan. By the time he
retired, he had traveled to more than 40 countries on every continent with U.S. teams,
frequently as "Chief of Mission," including organizing and leading the first U.S. track and
field team to appear in the People's Republic of China as part of the U.S. normalization of
relations in 1975. During these D.C. years, Mr. Rus was a fixture at the Washington
Touchdown Club and served as its Program Chair. His family fondly recalls his idea in
1981 to coordinate with the White House Visitors' Office for the introduction of
autographed wooden Easter eggs at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. He would
always have some of the wooden eggs in his pocket, ready for a celebrity's signature, at
the many events he attended each year. The autographed White House Wooden Easter
Eggs have evolved over the years and have become highly sought after collector's items.
Jan Rus is survived by his five children and their spouses: Jan and Diane Rus of
Claremont, California; Ron and Cindy Rus of Newport Beach, California; Mary and
Charles Saunders of Reston, Virginia; Lois and Richard Gifford of Dunedin, Florida; and
Claudia and Roger Koide of Springville, Utah; as well as nine grandchildren and four
His high school sweetheart and wife of 68 years, Mary Jean Rus, died in 2012. In every
visit with his children and grandchildren since, he talked about how he missed her terribly.