A gentle and kind soul. A man who was truly larger than life. A person whose generosity knew no bounds.
These are just some of the descriptions of long-time Valley farmer Russell Stewart, who died Sunday afternoon. He was 78.
A statement on the Russell Farms Market website reads: “Today with heavy hearts we announce the passing of a wonderful man, a gentle giant with an amazingly huge heart. You will be missed more than you know, Russell.”
The message board outside the market reads simply “Goodbye Russell” with his trademark tractor parked close by.
“His tractor was his life,” said friend and business partner France Bournazel. “That was his beast. You couldn’t get him off that tractor.”
Stewart could be seen driving the tractor from the market parking lot and down the road or across the highway to the rich growing fields and back again.
It was truly a sad day for so many people to learn of Stewart’s death.
“He was a great man,” said Bournazel. “He fed the Valley.”
“He didn’t want credit for anything,” added Rick Martinson, who came to know him well over 30 years of doing his accounting, tax work and “keeping track of him. We found we had lots in common.”
Stewart never wanted much. He only wanted to make sure people were looked after and that meant providing primary support for local farmers.
“He wouldn’t see no wrong in anybody,” marvelled Bournazel. “He worked all his life for helping everybody.”
Stewart is an historical figure in the Valley in the truest sense of the word.
His mother Katie and dad Laurence provided the work ethic that kept Russell going so long. Laurence was still working at age 97 and died at 98.
Russell’s Garage was the original gas station on the current farm market site, but Stewart didn’t much like pumping gas. That’s when a market and then a restaurant were built on the location.
The restaurant was called the Red Rooster for good reason. When Stewart was four years old, he was attacked by none other than a red rooster, so it only seemed fitting to the family to choose that name to commemorate such an auspicious occasion.
Stewart was always involved in the farming that supplied the market in some way, but he and Bournazel took it over in February of 2016 after the market closed for a short time.
“It was a decision we took together,” noted Bournazel.
It’s always been important to Stewart to make sure local farmers got their crops to market. Some 15 different farms were accommodated rather than bringing in produce from somewhere else when a local alternative existed — even if it meant paying a little more.
“When Russell had the market before, that was his purpose, to support the local farmers,” Bournazel indicated.
Stewart always liked it when the market was bustling.
“That made him happy — lots of people,” said Bournazel. “That’s what he liked to see.”
Just on Saturday, he was raving about the good job done while looking over some potatoes.
“He was on his tractor the day before he died,” noted Bournazel. “He wanted to go that way.”
A friend of Bournazel’s from Quebec, Chantal Ladouceur, left the following impression about Stewart after coming out to visit for two weeks:
“He never questions himself, which is confirmed by his happiness in providing for us, he opens his heart to those around him and blesses them with his love.
“This soul with a big heart — a consoling heart, protects us and always has our happiness in mind, he asks for nothing, but hopes for a smile.”
The full document will be available at Stewart’s memorial service next Wednesday, July 19. It will take place at 1 p.m. at Mellor Hall in Duncan.
The market will be closed half a day on the 19th in order for employees to attend the service.
Everyone plans to continue working according to Stewart’s wishes.
“He told us over and over ‘if anything happened to me, keep going,’” noted Bournazel. “‘I don’t want to see a car lot here.’ We’re going to keep doing exactly what he wanted.”