People and Community University

Russ Jollivette, Former Executive Assistant to UM President Foote, Passes Away

Jollivette, who was also VP for Government Relations, worked at UM during one of its most dynamic growth periods.
Russ Jollivette

Cyrus “Russ” Jollivette was cut from the same mold as former University of Miami President Edward T. Foote II—lawyers who became journalists and then administrators in higher education. 

“Perhaps that is why they understood how the other saw the world and were able to solve problems together,” recalls Foote’s daughter, Julia Foote LeStage. “Dad often said he could not have imagined his time at UM without Russ; he depended on him heavily in all aspects of running the University of Miami. He believed that Russ was paramount to the University because of his unique set of skills. They spanned from detailed attention to the side of delicate or complex situations, to steadily holding the longterm vision of a world-class academic institution.”

Jollivette, a UM School of Law alumnus who served in a number of senior-level positions at the University over a nearly 24-year period, including as executive assistant to President Foote and as vice president for government relations during one of the most dynamic growth periods in the institution’s history, passed away on Monday, April 30 in Miami. He was 71. 

At UM, Jollivette’s various roles over more than two decades spanned the gamut. From leading public affairs efforts to heading up corporate and foundation relations to serving in prominent positions in development, university relations, and government relations, Jollivette was “the gold standard,” said LeStage. “He carried and presented himself with grace, charm, intelligence, and sophistication.” 

But it was in his position as executive assistant to the late President Foote that Jollivette arguably made his biggest impact at UM. “My father had a very close, small team of senior colleagues whom he trusted implicitly for over twenty years as president,” said LeStage. “Russ was central to that team…and to my father's life at UM.” 

Grace Castro, an administrative assistant in UM’s Office of the Secretary who worked with Jollivette in the Office of the President, remembers him for the way he made sure things got done. “Whenever you went to Russ with a job-related problem, he would always respond, ‘If it can be fixed, fix it.’ And that was the end of the discussion,” she said. “He was always jovial and had an open-door policy for everyone.”

As senior vice president for business and finance at UM for nearly 28 years, David Lieberman worked closely with Jollivette on many projects. “President Foote had [Executive Vice President and Provost] Luis Glaser on the academic side. But on all other matters in which there were things to be done and discussed, he depended on three people: myself, [Vice President and General Counsel] Paul Dee, and Russ,” recalled Lieberman. “Russ and I spent a lot of time together, collaborating on a lot of projects. We joked that we didn’t need the type of hand signals used in baseball because we just knew each other so well.” 

Jollivette, Lieberman said, was also an “outstanding lobbyist,” helping to bring in millions of dollars for the University when he represented the school in Tallahassee and in Washington, D.C.

LeStage also remembers Jollivette for being a part of her family life. “Despite living his life in the public eye, my father was a very private man,” she said. “By letting Russ into his personal life with my mother, me, and two brothers, he bestowed on him great trust—and praise. My parents entertained over 5,000 people a year at our family home, and Russ was there for 99 percent of every event as part of my family, my father’s team, and the University.”

After he left UM, Jollivette went on to a successful career at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida—as group vice president and then senior vice president of public affairs, and later senior vice president of federal government relations. During his stint at the health insurance company, he helped spearhead a generous gift to UM’s School of Nursing and Health Studies for scholarships for minority nursing students. “That’s just how much he loved UM,” said Lieberman.

Jollivette later headed up his own public affairs company, Jollivette Public Affairs LLC.

Cyrus Martin “Russ” Jollivette was born on August 5, 1946, in Miami, Florida, the son of Cyrus Martin and Frances Edna (Reeves) Jollivette Chambers.

He was a journalist before his career in higher education, serving as managing editor of The Miami Times for six years. 

Jollivette earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, a Master of Business Administration in Management from Long Island University, and Juris Doctor from UM’s School of Law.

He is survived by a daughter, Lynn Jollivette Johns.