The man named Kiwibank Senior New Zealander of the Year has a very strong Whanganui connection.

John Russell, 64, picked up the prestigious national award recently for his work with students and mentoring the country's secondary school principals.

He is principal of Naenae College in Wellington.

Mr Russell is the son of Heather and the late Ron Russell, a former mayor of Whanganui.


Mrs Russell said she was "very proud" that her son was given such an honour.

Mr Russell was born and educated in Whanganui, attending Whanganui Intermediate and Wanganui Collegiate before earning an engineering degree at Canterbury University.

"He only got into education when his wife applied for a job at Naenae College," Mrs Russell said.

"The principal asked John's wife if she knew a maths teacher, and she said 'John's in the car'."

That was 30 years ago and since then he has moved from Naenae to Mana College, then Kapiti College, before returning to Naenae when the school was put into statutory control.

That is where he has stayed, engineering a remarkable turn-around in the school's fortunes.

Mr Russell received his award at a special function earlier this month, sitting alongside other winners including New Zealander of the Year, former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, and golfing sensation Lydia Ko.

Senior New Zealander of the Year award recognises those aged 60 and over who have made a positive contribution and contributed to the welfare of the nation.