Russell Bennett

Russell Bennett, the Hearing Industries Association’s (HIA) general counsel from 1955 to 2003, died this week from cancer. A partner of the Minneapolis law firm Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty and Bennett, he joined the firm in 1954 following his discharge from the US Navy. At about the same time, hearing instrument manufacturers in Minneapolis agreed to organize a trade association, spearheaded by Leland Rosemond of Otarion and Leland Watson of Maico. They chose the name Hearing Aid Industry Conference (HAIC), which was essentially an offshoot of the public relations organization called the American Hearing Aid Association.

Bennett witnessed much of the best and worst of times in the industry. In  Spring 1962, he served as HIA counsel at the famed Kefauver Committee hearings; the Health, Education and Welfare Dept, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actions of the 1970s, as well as the anti-hearing aid testimony of Senator Church. In the 1980s, Senator Claude Pepper and the House Subcommittee on Health and Long Term Care carried out an investigation of the hearing industry with no result. The mid-90s brought with it Commissioner David Kessler and his investigative actions of hearing-related advertising, as well as the Agency’s intention to revise Federal regulations on the sale and distribution of hearing aids (which has since been tabled). Through it all, Bennett was a keen negotiator and expert in guiding the industry through the trying times.

Bennett’s association with the hearing industry nearly cost him his life in 1960 in an incident that he said profoundly affected his outlook on life. Upon arriving at the Minneapolis airport for a trip to Miami, Bennett and Watson were told that, due to a mistake in reservations, there was only one seat left on the aircraft. Since Watson was his client, Bennett offered to give up his seat and take a plane leaving in the evening. When Bennett arrived at the Miami airport, he learned that the Northwest flight on which Watson was flying had crashed. There were no survivors.

Said Carole Rogin of HIA: “Russ was great in every respect—he was a great big guy (remember those handshakes?), he had a great big smile and attitude, and an even bigger heart. Despite the fact that his illustrious law career took him way beyond the HIA board table, he stayed with us and guided HIA through the most challenging, developmental years of the industry.”

Bennett had tremendous respect and influence in both Washington and in the Twin Cities area. He was involved in the Boys Club and the United Way, and in 1988 he and his wife, Beth, received the National Society of Fund-Raising Executives Award for Outstanding Volunteer Leadership. Bennett also served as chairman of the University of Minnesota’s fundraising campaign—an effort that yielded $1.6 billion. Bennett was an accomplished mariner (he crossed the Atlantic in a 36-foot catamaran), and he and his wife Beth spent a lot of their time on the water.

He is survived by his wife Beth, and his two daughters, Robin and Marym. Memorials can be sent to:
The Bennett Family
21957 Minnetonka Blvd.
Unite 20, St. Albans Bay Villas
Excelsior, MN  55331