John G. Bull Dog Rust, a Toledo lawyer since the late 1940s who was undeterred in defeat despite unsuccessful — though often red, white, and blue-spangled — candidacies for Congress, judge, city council, and school board, died Thursday in Glendale Assisted Living, where he lived about two years. He was 97.
He was not in ill health, and he attended Sunday services as always at First Unitarian Church of Toledo, said Robert Rudolph, chaplain of the congregation.
So often did Mr. Rust run for office over 25 years that “perennial candidate” seemed as much a part of his name in news accounts as “Bull Dog,” which, he once told The Blade, he was given by the late Toledo Municipal Court Judge Homer Ramey. With a firm handshake or in remarks at candidates’ forums, he introduced himself with that moniker. But state law prohibited his use of a nickname on the ballot. In 2001, he went to court, and Bull Dog became part of his legal name.
His last campaign was in 2007 as a write-in candidate for Toledo Board of Education. At a packed forum in DeVeaux Junior High School, he wore his signature Uncle Sam hat — red and white stripes; stars against a blue field — and drew applause and occasional laughter for his impassioned responses.
“John Bull Dog Rust!” he shouted in an opening statement, pumping his fist into the air. “I am for the people. ... Yes, I am old, but I’m not scared. I am for the people.”
In the courtroom, on the stump, and in conversation, he could be resolute.
“He was a person of very firm principles, unwaveringly firm when he made up his mind,” Mr. Rudolph said.
Mr. Rust had been a Lucas County Democratic Party precinct committeeman and was on the party central committee. He tangled with party leaders in 1982 when he sought the Democratic nomination for Congress. Because the party had endorsed Marcy Kaptur, he was not allowed to address Democratic gatherings. He took party leaders to court, claiming a violation of free-speech rights. The Ohio Supreme Court ultimately let stand an appellate ruling that political parties could make such rules.
He ran two years later for the 6th District Court of Appeals in Toledo. He did not make it past the primary when he ran for council in 1989, 1991, 1993, 1997. He also applied to fill council vacancies in the 1990s, but he was not appointed.
Whichever office he sought, he promised to allow everyone a fair hearing in government.
“I am not afraid to say that I am an idealist,” he told The Blade in 1993. “In Toledo today, we don’t have too much idealism, we have too little idealism.”
Mr. Rust had a solo legal practice for many years in the former Security Building downtown and then on Lewis Avenue. He was known for taking cases other lawyers believed unwinnable.
“I’m not one of the go-along boys,” he told The Blade in 1989.
Mr. Rudolph said: “He represented people of very modest means and sometimes people who couldn’t have afforded him, and he didn’t charge them."
Mr. Rust was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1948. In 1951, he was appointed assistant legal counsel for the local office of the federal Office of Price Stabilization. He was president in 1970 of the Lucas County Bar Association.
He was born Oct. 15, 1915, in Oklahoma to Helen and Henry Rust. He was a 1932 graduate of Coweta High School. He had bachelor of arts and bachelor of laws degrees from the University of Virginia. He was an Army Air Corps staff sergeant and an aerial gunner in Italy during World War II.
Mr. Rust skied into his 90s and challenged himself with rigorous exercise at the former South YMCA.
“I am an intense person,” he told The Blade’s Millie Benson in 1996. “It’s hard to be confronted with limitations. ... For me, the question is: ‘Do you have the guts to do it?’ ”
There are no immediate survivors.
Memorial services will be at 2 p.m. April 20 in First Unitarian Church of Toledo. Arrangements are by the Newcomer Funeral Home.
Tributes are suggested to the church or The Glendale Assisted Living.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.