TO celebrate the life and service of Maleny man Russell Thomas Williams, family and friends gathered in tranquil bushland at Witta Cemetery on June 2 to remember and give thanks for his life and to “fare-thee-well”.
At 95, Russell was remembered as a husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, best friend and good mate, living a full life as a sailor, farmer, publican, golfer and bridge player.
Born in Newcastle, Russell’s family moved to Sydney in his early years, where he attended school and later worked at the Taxation Office and with his father.
Russell had a love of the sea, which began when he joined the Volunteer Coastal Patrol, patrolling Sydney Harbour on weekends and week nights for enemy submarines. He joined the Royal Australia Navy in 1944.
After World War II he rejoined his father’s commercial laundry business, later buying his own commercial laundry in inner Sydney. It was here he met and married his first wife Thelma and they had three children – Russell, Cheryl and John.
Joining the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club at Pittwater in the 1950s, Russell’s career in sailing began. It wasn’t long before the ocean racing urge got him and he became a helmsman in several Sydney to Hobart Yacht Races from 1953.
In 1959 he built CHERANA, named after his mother Ann and daughter Cheryl, which was launched in time for the Montague Island race, coming third in what was noted as the roughest race on record. CHERANA went on to win the Sydney to Hobart race that year and became second in the Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race the following year. CHERANA is still racing.
Russell moved to Brisbane in 1961, purchasing a second commercial laundry business. In 1964 he started building the Fare-Thee-Well, a 40-foot sloop, in an old church he had purchased next door, which had to be demolished to get the yacht out for launching.
He wanted to sail Fare-Thee-Well out of Sydney so sold his Brisbane business and moved back to Sydney in 1965. Here he met Angela who was on a working holiday from Ireland.
They both enjoyed sailing Fare-Thee-Well, completing several ocean races including two Sydney to Hobart races. They also spent time sailing the Great Barrier Reef. In 1968 he sold Fare-Thee-Well (which is still racing) and Russell and Angela moved to Robertson in the NSW Southern Highlands, where they bred Murray grey cattle and thoroughbred horses for 20 years.
During that time Russell became a publican, purchasing the Robertson pub, but he continued to crew in many ocean races. Russell’s dream of having a boat at the front of the house came true in 1988 when he and Angela moved to the Gold Coast for seven years.
With farming still in his blood, in 1994 they bought a small farm at Witta, fattening Droughtmaster cattle for 12 years.
Deciding it was time to retire, Russell then in his 80s, they purchased 2.5 acres at Wootha, before moving to the Maleny township in 2017. Russell loved Maleny and the many friends he made there through a shared love of playing golf and bridge.
One of the highlights of Russell’s life came in 2009 when he was invited to fire the starting gun of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race on what was the 50th anniversary of his win.
His wife, Angela, told those attending his service that Russell would have been happy knowing his friends gathered to celebrate his life, as he did always love a party.