The life of the party: North Shore businessman Graeme Rutherford remembered after dying in tragic accident

Well-known North Shore businessman Graeme Rutherford has died tragically in an accident.

His wife Debbie said he was a passionate family man and his son Tom called the death a “huge catastrophic loss”.

In a death notice Rutherford’s family posted for him, in lieu of flowers people were asked to donate to one of his favourite charities, the Westpac Auckland Rescue Helicopter.

The family did not want to divulge details about the accident that took the life of the Birkenhead businessman who generously supported local schools, the Birkenhead Bowling Club and the rescue helicopter.

Rutherford started car dealership Wheels on Wairau alongside co-director Phillip Heald in 1998 with a handful of cars and built a successful business, which now has 15 staff and a mechanical workshop.

Debbie recalled the time her husband sold a car to a woman whose husband was overseas and got a puncture on the way home. It was a busy Saturday afternoon and Graeme popped in the car and changed the tyre, she said.

“He always went above and beyond what he could do to help people,” Debbie said.

Rutherford was not a bowler – he loved fishing and cooking – but got to know members of his club in Birkenhead and became a sponsor. Westlake Boys’ High School, Glenfield College and Pinehurst School in Albany also benefited from his generosity.

Tom said his father was a charismatic figure, saying any room he went into was the better for him being in it. He was a great grandad to Tom’s three children, who called him “cuppa”, and a father figure to his wife, Allisha, his son said.

Allisha described her father-in-law as someone with a huge sense of humour who liked to play tricks on her. Family members said he was the life of the party, the first to arrive and the last to leave.

Wheels on Wairau staff member Aaron West said his death came as a “surreal shock”.

“A lot of the North Shore, whether they had a working relationship or a recreational relationship, are just absolutely flabbergasted.

“He was a personality and a character all of his own.”

Rutherford was just starting to enjoy a slower pace of life where he could spend more time with his family and “kick his heels up a bit more”, West said.

West, the newest member of staff, said he would be forever grateful to Rutherford for giving him the opportunity to “spread my wings”.

The Birkenhead Bowling Club paid tribute to the long-time sponsor in their newsletter.

He initially sponsored the Sunday tournaments before taking over the two-day seafood tournament.

Members recalled the generous man digging in to his wallet at prize givings and handing out $100 notes on top of the prizes already provided.

The tribute noted that the Wheels on Wairau Seafood Tournament would take on a special meaning when played in April this year.

“Many club members have purchased a car through Graeme often with a substantial discount or extras thrown in at no cost,” the tribute read.

“Graeme was not just a sponsor of the club he was also a friend to many of the members and his smile and friendliness will be sadly missed.”

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