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I Should Have Been Born Twice

Jimmy Russo (Giacomo) was the son of a Sicilian immigrant who arrived in Great Britain in 1952, carrying a single suitcase, and he left school with an O level in woodwork. Over the next 50 years, thanks to his hard work, energy and drive, he went on to build a multi-million-pound salad-growing and distribution business, was awarded a Cavalieri by the government of Italy, became chair of the professional football club Watford FC and travelled the world.

Refusing to give up

Jimmy entitled his LifeBook I Should Have Been Born Twice because it was a favourite saying of his father’s. It used to acknowledge a mistake from which he had learnt a lesson and that he wouldn’t repeat. Perhaps, though, the title also describes the fullness of Jimmy’s life, for he has, surely, done enough to fill two lifetimes. Hard work is, he says, in the Russo family DNA.

From an early age, like his parents and his grandparents, Jimmy worked long days and took little time off. While building up his salad business, he was on site early every morning and spent the day packing produce and driving delivery lorries. When he finished late at night, there was still the paperwork to do. Why did he work this hard? There were many reasons. He wanted to provide for his beloved wife and children, he liked the feel of cash in his pocket and having nice things, and he was provoked by someone who told him he couldn’t do it. Mostly, however, he worked so hard because he would not take “no” for an answer. He refused to give up.

Aiming high

Jimmy knew from an early age that he wanted to make something of himself. He wanted a good education, and he didn’t want to work in a factory or in his father’s 3000-square-metre plant nursery. Unfortunately, Hertfordshire County Council (his local authority) sent him to a secondary school that was, he says, great, “if you didn’t want to learn anything.” Jimmy’s draconian and failed school did, however, teach him that fear of failure is a forceful motivator.

Mocked by the school careers teacher for his ambition to become an airline pilot, Jimmy spent several enjoyable years as cabin crew with British Airways but left at the age of 21, convinced that he had to be his own boss. A successful ice-cream franchise followed, and then came partnership in a salad-distribution business with his brother. Although Jimmy had sworn to his father that he would never buy a nursery, he is now the owner of a 30-acre salad-growing site in Essex that employs 200 staff and supplies salad to major supermarkets across the south of England. By anyone’s standards, he has indeed made something of himself.

Living life to the full

Enza, Jimmy’s wife, is the love of his life, but football, and Chelsea Football Club in particular, comes a close second. His association with Watford Football Club began when he hired a private box for a match, and it soon evolved into investment, a seat on the board of directors and chairmanship. During those years, Watford was promoted to the English Premier League, but Jimmy also had difficult times at the club and eventually ended his involvement with it. His enthusiasm for soccer remains undiminished, however. It is, he says, a leveller and a joy.

Prompted by the shock of sudden and serious illness in his 60s, Jimmy decided to write his memoirs to record everything he has done, as a tribute to his parents and as a gift to his children and grandchildren. What mattered most to him, though, was to convey a simple message to his grandchildren: “Live life to the full.”

Irrepressible, indomitable and taking delight in all the opportunities his hard work opened up to him, Jimmy has certainly lived this sentiment himself.


Written by Kate Parry, LifeBook Memoirs editor