Russell Matthews was born in New Plymouth and began his working life as an assistant engineer for the New Plymouth Borough Council. After serving in World War 1 Mathews stayed in England for three further years to study road construction.
He arrived back in New Zealand in 1922 eventually establishing Russell Matthews & Company – the firm becoming New Zealand's largest roading contractor, sealing more than 3000 kilometres of road from Whangarei to Invercargill. Matthews was also a founding director of the New Plymouth-based chemical company, Ivon Watkins Limited, serving on its board from 1944 to 1962.
Russell was also a dedicated horticulturist. He and wife Mary created the renowned garden “Tupare” and Russell he was a driving force behind the development of New Plymouth's famous Pukeiti.
Matthews was made an OBE in 1971 for his services to industry, horticulture and philanthropy and became a knight bachelor in 1982 for services to horticulture and the community.