Born on the 10th of September 1920 at Hangatiki in the King Country, Russell left school at the age of 12 to work on the family farm. In 1936 he moved to Napier where he worked at HB Motor Co washing service cars before graduating on to driving. This income provided Russell with the opportunity to purchase three horses, carting fence posts and battens from Pohokura bush block to the Napier-Taupo Road.
At the age of 20, Russell joined the Royal Navy during the Second World War where he remained until the end of 1942 when he was transferred to the Royal NZ Navy. He was demobbed in 1944, returning to New Zealand and the Napier-Taupo Road.
Russell’s War Gratuity and savings provided enough money to purchase an 8 seater Packard car which was used to service Te Pohue 28 miles north of Napier. He soon realised that by favouring one butcher, one greengrocer, and haberdasher he could command a commission on top of his delivery fee; a shrewd business technique providing extra income for the replacement of the Packard with a Studebaker.
In 1945 a three truck fleet combined with a contract to haul timber from Pohokura Mill to Hastings was purchased, prompting Russell to register R H Pettigrew Transport Ltd. This rapidly grew to nine trucks before later becoming a business which developed the most extensive freight, timber, livestock and forwarding transport operation in the North Island, forming six separate companies under the Pettigrew Group name.
During Russell’s time spent on the notoriously poor Napier-Taupo road, he had made numerous trips to Wellington advocating a better road, not only for better freight transport, but for better general public access into the Central North Island. The new Napier-Taupo road was officially opened in 1972.
Freightways Express was formed as a public company in 1964, following many acquisitions and negotiations in both New Zealand and Australia and later becoming New Zealand’s largest international road, rail, air and sea service transport operation of its time. Companies like Armourguard, Bandag Tyres, Chep Handling Systems, Daily and Sea Freightways, and NZ Couriers were the direct result of Russell and his team’s ability to foresee and fulfil the needs of the transport industry. Russell retired from Freightways in 1988.
Despite all Russell’s business interests, he also became involved in a number of community organisations.
He is founding President of the Rugby Union Foundation of New Zealand, served as President of the New Zealand and Hawkes Bay Rugby Football Unions, and Napier High School Old Boys Rugby Football Club; installed as a Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International, granted Freedom of the City of Napier, an inductee of the Hawkes Bay Business Hall of Fame, and a Life Member of the Transport Forum, Hawkes Bay Rugby Football Union, and the Meeanee Rodeo Association.
In 1982, Russell was knighted for his services to transport, community and sport. He and his wife Glennis were former Patrons of the Sensible Sentencing Trust and Russell has served as Founding Trustee and Board Member of many Hawkes Bay community boards, and served on Boards as Director of 14 companies, including NZFP, Watties, Union Steam Ship Co, UEB, AGC Finance, to name but a few.
Sadly, Sir Russell has passed but his name will echo wherever his shadow lay over his numerous sporting and business interests during his lifetime.
(Below) The induction and Lady Petigrew accepting the award on behalf of Sir Russell.