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Russell A. Rourke
15th Secretary of the Air Force

In office
December 1, 1985 – April 7, 1986
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Verne Orr
Succeeded by Edward C. Aldridge Jr.
Personal details
Born December 30, 1931
New York City, USA
Died January 19, 2003 (aged 71)
Annapolis, Maryland, USA
Political party Republican

Russell A. Rourke (December 30, 1931 – January 19, 2003) was a lawyer and public official. He served in key staff positions on Capital Hill and in senior executive positions within the Federal Government. President Ronald Reagan appointed him to serve as the fifteenth Secretary of the Air Force.

Education and early career

Born in New York City, Rourke attended the University of Maryland, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in 1953. After graduation, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He served in Korea, completing his active duty service as a first lieutenant. However, Rourke remained in the Marine Corps Reserve, eventually commanding the Marine Air Control Squadron 24 at Quantico, Virginia. He retired in 1985 as a colonel after 32 years of service. His Marine decorations include the Legion of Merit.[1]

After being released from active duty in the Marine Corps, Rourke attended law school at Georgetown University Law Center earning a bachelor of laws degree in 1959. He then worked briefly in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Keogh, Carey and Costello as an associate attorney before beginning his public service career in 1960.[1]

Public service

Rourke began his civilian government service as administrative assistant to Republican Congressman John R. Pillion of New York. In 1965, he became administrative assistant to Congressman Henry P. Smith III another New York Republican.[1] When Congressman Smith retired in 1974, Rourke ran as a Republican-Conservative candidate for Congress in 36th district of New York. Although the district had been held by Republicans for the previous 62 years, Rourke had not lived in the district for many years and the Watergate scandal was an issue that worked against Republican candidates in the election. As a result, he was defeated by a three-to-two margin.[2]

Following his unsuccessful run for Congress, Rourke became deputy to presidential counselor John O. Marsh. In 1976, he became a special assistant to President Gerald R. Ford. His responsibilities included legislative liaison between the White House and Congress. After President Ford lost his bid for re-election in 1977, Rourke serve on the White House Transition Team. At the close of the Ford Administration, Rourke accepted a position as administrative assistant to Republican Congressman Harold S. Sawyer of Michigan.[1]

In May 1981, President Reagan nominated Rourke as assistant secretary for legislative affairs in the Department of Defense.[3] In that capacity, Rourke was the principal adviser to Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger on congressional matters and was responsible for overseeing congressional liaison activities in the Department and military Services. Upon his departure in 1985, he was awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Medal by Secretary Weinberger.[1]

On September 27, 1985, President Reagan nominated Rourke to replace Verne Orr who was retiring after five years as Secretary of the Air Force.[4] After confirmation by the United States Senate, he was sworn in as the fifteenth Secretary of the Air Force on December 1, 1985. He served only four month in that position before resigning on April 7, 1986 for personal reasons.[5]

After leaving the Air Force, Rourke and his family operated a real estate business in Annapolis, Maryland. He died in Annapolis, Maryland on January 19, 2003 at the age 71.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 United States Air Force senior executive biography, "Russell A. Rourke", Air Force Link, Air Force History Support Office, Washington, D.C., February 10, 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gizzi, John, "Russell Rourke, R.I.P.", Human Events, February 3, 2003.
  3. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, "Nominatio of Russell A. Rourke to be an Assistant Secretary of Defense", White House, Washington, D.C., March 14, 1981.
  4. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, "Nomination of Russell A. Rourke to be Secretary of the Air Force", White House, Washington, D.C., September 27, 1985.
  5. "Secretary of Air Force Planning to Quit Soon", The New York Times, New York, N.Y., April 8, 1986.

External links

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