Popular cop turns 90
Cop gave first road lessons
BY BRENDA VOWDEN
A traffic cop can instil fear into the most hardy of souls.
That was a different story for thousands of Hawke’s Bay school children when Russell Coddington showed up.
As the road traffic instructor, Russell was a welcome and friendly face in around 500 schools from south of Heretaunga St to Woodville, from the 1950s until his retirement 28 years ago. Russell recently celebrated his 90th birthday, which did not go unnoticed as hundreds of posts on social media recorded how popular he was.
“He used to come to Raureka Primary where I was at school in the late 1950s and 60s and every other school in the Bay. His name resonates with every Hawke’s Bay kid back then. He must have done that job forever – we all learned our road skills from that man. Such a popular figure,” says Linda Thompson, now a newspaper subeditor living in Mount Maunganui.
“The running theme in all the hundreds of comments was that people were so thrilled he was still alive and how much he taught kids about road safety. We all remembered his name instantly – he must have had such an impact. The comments from people illustrate how that memory of his training has stuck with us all for decades. I’d say he’s probably prevented numerous crashes over decades, especially for cyclists.”
Russell had a few tricks up his sleeves to get onside the children, carrying a monkey puppet which would sleep in his hat.
“I could make it scratch my ears. They thought it was real and when I tried to wean them off it, they asked for it. I was playing second fiddle to a monkey.”
He certainly made an impact, with former pupils coming up to Russell in different times and parts of the world, including one when he was on holiday on Philip Island, Australia.
“I was watching the penguins land and a lady came up to me and said, ‘You’re Mr Coddington,’.”
Another approached him in Melbourne and he also remembers a knock on the door not long after moving into his residence at Mary Doyle.
“She said, ‘You took me for my driver’s licence in Dargaville.’ Those kids are all over the world.”
Russell was not the first – or only member of his family to work in what was then the Transport Department. His uncle Ian and niece Leigh have worked as traffic officers, with his father Jack being one of the original ’12 apostles’, who started up the first department in 1937 and was a traffic inspector for the Napier Borough Council.
Russell joined in the early 1940s and became a road traffic instructor around a decade later.
“That’s when it became interesting. The children made the job – they made such a fuss of you.”
With a family combination of around 100 years as traffic officers, he says there hasn’t been one incident.
“The important thing in all those years is no one ever laid a finger on us – you couldn’t say that today.”
Russell admits to being “a real rookie” when he started in the department, issuing his first ticket for an expired WOF and a blown headlight to former Minister of Transport Robert Semple.
“I heard a voice behind me say, ‘Just a minute young man. Do you know who I am?’
“He told me if I’d let him off, I’d be looking for a job on Monday morning.
“It speaks well of those politicians.”
In his first posting to Mount Maunganui, Russell says he was given the same Ford V8 coupe his father Jack was issued 14 years earlier.
“The taxpayers got their money out of those.”
Russell jokingly says he got to 90 the hard way, celebrating with a trip to Wellington for a few days with son Steve, followed by a flight to Auckland and a few more days spent with daughter Debbie.
“I had a wonderful time,” he says.
Photo caption – BADGE 111: Russell Coddington has just turned 90 and was a road traffic instructor in Hawke’s Bay.
PHOTO WARREN BUCKLAND