Russell Ervin Sway, 79, passed away Dec. 20 at his Roswell, Ga., home on December 20. Sway suffered cognitive impairment as the result of problems encountered during surgery and later was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Sway served as the Retail Design Institute’s International President from 2002 through 2006, then as Chairman of the Institute from 2006 through 2010. He was awarded the Institute’s Distinguished Service Award, was named “Member of the Year” twice, was a Fellow of the Institute (FRDI), and inducted into the Retail Design Legion of Honor in 2005.
Over the course of a distinguished career in retail architecture and design, Sway was employed by Rich’s Department store (now Macy’s) and then served as project director for Miller Zell Inc., Atlanta. Relocating to New York in 1985, he became director of specialty retail design for Walker Group/CNI, New York City, then the world’s largest retail design firm. He subsequently joined Chase Manhattan Bank, New York, as vice president of retail design and marketing. He was founder and president of R. Sway Associates, a retail design consulting firm, providing services in the U.S. and abroad. Sway received numerous Store of the Year and other design awards for financial, specialty/department store, and automotive retail environments.
“Russell Sway was an icon in our industry and an important figure in the history of the Retail Design Institute — committing his time and leadership when the Institute needed it most,” explains Andrew McQuilkin, FRDI. “He guided the Institute to remain an independent voice and advocated for ‘Professional’ members.” He also grew membership and helped to secure the Institute’s future. “For me, Russell was a dear friend, trusted guide and wise mentor.” Together, McQuilkin notes, “We brought back the Ohio Chapter, elevated the Institute’s Design Awards Gala, and reinvented the student design competition. His friendship, quick wit, creative spirit and passion for retail will missed,” McQuilkin says.
“Russ was a strategic thinker and creative powerhouse, with the uncanny ability to think outside the box,” notes Jerry Gelsomino, FRDI, who served with Sway as an International officer of the Institute. “I saw first-hand how his herculean efforts not only revitalized the organization, but how it also took the Institute into new directions.” Throughout his own body of project work, Sway demonstrated the highest standards of the profession of store designer/planner, Gelsomino recalls.
While in New York, Gelsomino and his wife Linda Krueger also worked with Sway at WalkerGroup/CNI. “We both found Russ was a genuine friend who could be called upon for insightful recommendations and best-of-class solutions for the most challenging situations,” Krueger explains. “His generosity and kindness along with his talented wife RoxAnna (also a key player in retail design) invited us into a long-lasting friendship. We are terribly saddened by the news of Russell’s passing. It was far too soon for a man who offered so much.”
Sway was an Eagle Scout and a lifetime admirer and student of indigenous peoples’ arts and culture. During his early adult years, he participated in a Native American performing dance group and later was known for his artistic creations in handcrafted beadwork. He also was a talented jewelry maker, designing and fabricating original artistic jewelry pieces in cast gold.
He is survived by his wife, RoxAnna (Arrington) Sway, his siblings: Patricia Elizabeth (Sway) Anderson, Robert Edward Sway, Richard Earl Sway, and Mary Catherine (Sway) Denton, and their children, his nieces and nephews: Robert Sway II, Michael Sway, Kathleen Sway, Elyse Sway and grand-niece Vivien Sway.
A private celebration of life ceremony will be held at a later date.