SOUTHLAND farewelled one of its loved and influential sons today as family gathered at the Ascot Park Hotel to remember the life of Russell Cunningham.
Mr Cunningham’s casket, adorned in a chequered flag and a picture of his beloved Datsun 240Z, made its way past a guard of honour by former speedway friends and competitors.
Tributes from friends and family came in word, music and poetry.
Friend Peter Noble, who officiated the service, said Mr Cunningham had a cheeky nature that was sometimes peppered with random and unfiltered comments.
He was a staunch supporter of Invercargill city and frequently proclaimed it to be
the best place in the world to live.
‘‘Russell’s contribution to the city cannot be understated. He was a fellow Southlander with a mind for its corporate progress and a heart for its people.’’
Mr Cunningham’s son, Alex, said his father had led a colourful life. There were things he did
really well but, as a frequent visitor to A&E, there were others he maybe should have
avoided, like snow skiing and electric scooters.
‘‘Russ’’ wasn’t a big fan of school so left at 15 to complete a carpentry apprenticeship. By 18 years old, he was self-employed.
Mr Cunningham went on to develop one of Invercargill’s largest construction companies which had heavily influenced many of the city’s commercial sectors, including having input in the early stages of the Leven St sector.
Affectionately known to many as ‘‘Sneakymeat’’, Mr Cunningham established several businesses in the past four decades, including fast food outlets Sneakymeats Takeaways and Dudleys Fast Food on North Rd.
Invercargill Homes and R J Cunningham Ltd were sold to make way for Russell Cunningham Properties and the opportunity to develop the former 28ha Southland A & P Show site, which spans from Victoria Ave to Beatrice St.
In 2012, ill health forced Mr Cunningham’s early retirement and the need to pass the reins of the company to Alex.
Alex said he was disappointed his father wasn’t able to see his vision fulfilled, but ensured he took his father for a final tour around the site on the way to the service.
On the professional front, Mr Cunningham was consistently passionate about investing in the growth and development of Invercargill city and championing its people while his family and classic racing cars and motorcycles ranked just as highly on a personal front.
His beloved Norton Commando motorcycle featured frequently in the stories of his bold and adventurous side.
Russell Cunningham Properties general manager Vicki Corkill said her former employer had a unique way of making everyone who worked for him feel valued and appreciated.
His business dealings were bold, visionary and, ‘‘deals in the early days were done over a few Coronas’’.
His mischievous side would often make an appearance at work as he had a bit of fun with staff.
The post on the Southland Sports Car Club social media page says Mr Cunningham was ‘‘remembered as a long-time competitor, a hard case, a good guy and a good club member by those who knew him well’’.
Mr Cunningham is survived by his wife Andree, son Alex, daughter Kate and grandchildren.