In October 1974, my parents bought a new, 1975 model, dark green Pontiac station wagon from the Haydon Pontiac dealership on Main Street in Kilmarnock. It proved to be the best vehicle we ever owned. We drove it for 287,000 miles. It made almost 100 trips back and forth to Alabama, and it was part of our family for over 20 years.
The most important and lasting result of that purchase was not the car itself—great though it was—but rather the enduring friendship that ensued with Anne and Richard Russell, the owners of the dealership. As I have written on other occasions, Anne—who was the daughter of Rannie Haydon—the founder of the dealership, was one of the most knowledgeable experts on all matters automotive, and in Richard she found her ideal partner.
They took a personal interest in each of their customers, indeed in many cases at a level that was exemplary in its manifestation of Christian kindness and concern. As their business flourished, Anne and Richard moved the dealership to new quarters that they constructed on the north side of town, giving it their name, Russell Pontiac.
Their customers looked forward to having service appointments as they became social events as well. They took a personal interest in serving the needs of everyone who dealt with them. Anne once said how concerned she was about one of her customers who was crippled by arthritis and whose husband suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Servicing their car needs was only part of how she cared for them.
As the years passed, in my conversations with Richard, I came to appreciate his extraordinary witness to the history of the 20th century. As a young man less than a month past his 21st birthday, serving in the U.S. Navy, he was present for the D-Day landing in Normandy, offloading the troops for the beginning of the assault that ultimately doomed Nazi Germany.
Immediately after the D-Day landings, he was shipped off to the Philippines where he was part of General Douglas MacArthur’s landing of the troops at Leyte Gulf, thereby fulfilling the general’s often-quoted remark upon leaving the Philippines in 1942, “I shall return.” Richard would speak of those times modestly as having been part of his past life, but listening to him, one quickly understood that his past life was a part of history itself.
Knowing Richard was to know an integral part of what many would call the greatest generation. As a young man, he was called upon to take extraordinary actions, which he did willingly and without seeking any glory or reward for himself. At war’s end, he returned home where he remained a productive citizen all of his life.
Anne and Richard operated the Pontiac dealership until their retirement in 1990. They moved to a new home they designed and built on Indian Creek—but sadly, Anne’s health declined, during which time Richard was her caregiver until she died in 2003 at the age of 72. Richard continued to live there surrounded by their happy memories. He always drove a pickup, and his steadfast companion was his Boston terrier. Appropriately, in dog lingo, the nickname for that breed is the ”American Gentleman.” The same could be said of Richard himself.
One day in 2010, when I was driving down Main Street and I saw the old Haydon Pontiac stand being razed, I stopped and rushed into the Rappahannock Record to tell the editor, who promptly dispatched a photographer to record the event, as it was the end of an era for many of us in Kilmarnock.
Richard was a caring and devoted friend to everyone who knew him. He and Anne gave a great testimony of how to apply Christianity to one’s daily life. Honesty and integrity were their watchwords every day of their lives. I remain grateful to my parents for having bought that Pontiac station wagon.
Richard S. Russell Sr., May 9, 1923 – January 28, 2021. R. I. P.