J. Russell Cullen Jr., 81, of Paoli, a leading builder in the Philadelphia area, died Wednesday, Aug. 19, of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at Arbour Square at West Chester, a senior community.

Born in Philadelphia, “Russ,” as he was called, was the son of J. Russell Cullen Sr. and Mary Missett, a former editor and columnist for The Inquirer. He graduated from La Salle College High School, and La Salle University in 1960.

Nason and Cullen, Inc. was started in 1926 by Walton H. Nason Sr. and Mr. Cullen’s father, J. Russell Cullen Sr. At first, the partnership installed swimming pools for wealthy clients along Philadelphia’s Main Line.

The King of Prussia firm then became a general contractor for new office buildings and health-care facilities, as well as public and private educational institutions. It also renovated schools, hospital units, and corporate centers. The business was active in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, according to a 2018 profile in the Norristown Times Herald.

"We create buildings that improve the quality of architecture in the area," Mr. Cullen told the paper. "The educational and health-care work is more rewarding to us. It's nice to see people walk out of hospitals who are well."

J. Russell Cullen joined the family firm as a common laborer and worked his way up to president.
Courtesy of the Cullen Family
J. Russell Cullen joined the family firm as a common laborer and worked his way up to president.

In the late 1950s, Mr. Cullen began his career as a laborer for the company. He became an estimator in 1961. He rose to president in 1985 and CEO in 1999. He was named chairman of the firm in 2003 when his son, Daniel F. Cullen, replaced him as president.

“Under Russ’s leadership, Nason and Cullen continued to grow and expand well beyond those early pool days and went on to complete iconic projects for leading Philadelphia institutions and companies,” the family said in a statement.

Among the company’s construction projects: a boathouse on the Schuylkill for St. Joseph’s University and St. Joseph’s Preparatory School; the Cancer Prevention Pavilion at Fox Chase Center; the Four Falls office building on Rte. 23 in Conshohocken; and the international maintenance hangar for American Airlines at the Philadelphia International Airport.

Other projects were the renovation of historic Claudia Cohen Hall on the University of Pennsylvania campus and restoration of the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

The contracting firm was one of the largest in the Philadelphia area until 2000, when the Nason and Cullen families ended the partnership due to a difference of opinion on the future direction of the business.

“We just felt that it was the right time,” Mr. Cullen told the Philadelphia Business Journal. “It was the appropriate way to go for two individuals.”

When he wasn’t working, Mr. Cullen was a familiar figure in social circles on the Main Line, easily identifiable with his trademark hats, impeccable suits, and his smile.

He volunteered his time and talent to many well-known Philadelphia charities, organizations, and clubs. He often chaired fundraising galas.

He was president of the Carpenter Company of the City and County of Philadelphia, a craft guild that traces its roots to 1724. He was a board member of La Salle University, Rosemont College, and Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital.

He was also a supporter of Fox Chase Cancer Center, where he was treated by Dr. Elin Sigurdson for a series of cancers beginning in 1991. “That started a relationship with Fox Chase that existed till the end of his life,” his son said. “The cause was near and dear to his heart.”

Mr. Cullen was an advocate of historic preservation in Chester County and he enjoyed advising the county historical society.

One of his favorite pastimes was watching his grandchildren participate in sports and other school activities. He liked to ski, golf, and sail his Catalina 22 boat On The Green on Lake George.

He married Maureen McKeegan in 1979. In addition to his wife and son, Daniel, Mr. Cullen is survived by a son, James; a daughter Deborah; and six grandchildren. A brother died in 1998.

Funeral services will be private. Plans are pending for a memorial Mass once the coronavirus pandemic ebbs.

Memorial donations may be made to Fox Chase Cancer Center, 333 Cottman Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19111.