Tributes have continued to flood in for Hays Travel founder John Hays, who died suddenly on Friday.
Hays’ death prompted an outpouring of tributes from the travel industry which was mirrored in the northeast of England, with politicians, business leaders and Sunderland football club among those offering condolences.
Sunderland MP Julie Elliott said: “So sad to learn of the death of John Hays – such a lovely man an inspirational business leader and true champion of all things Sunderland. He will be missed by all who knew him, my thoughts are with his wife Irene and family.”
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck added: “This has absolutely floored me, terrible news. Had many laughs with John over the years, I will remember him fondly. All my love to Irene, their family & their staff.”
A minute’s silence was held ahead of Sunderland’s match with MK Dons on Saturday, with the club paying tribute to its former vice-chairman alongside local photographer Dean Matthews, who died on Thursday.
Sunderland AFC tweeted: “We are incredibly saddened to learn of the passing of former Vice-Chairman John Hays. John was a champion of the North East and the City of Sunderland. Our thoughts are with his wife Irene, his family and his friends at this time. Rest in peace, John.”
Wearside pays tribute to John Hays and Dean Matthews ahead of today’s game.
Both will be immensely missed, both will be forever Red & White pic.twitter.com/8YDjJ0EpGR
— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) November 14, 2020
The Sunderland Echo reported that floral tributes had been left at Hays Travel’s head offices, with messages honouring him as “Mr Sunderland”.
Meanwhile, other leaders in the northeast joined the thousands paying tribute to the man described as “a champion of the northeast and of Sunderland”.
Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “Very, very sad to hear of John’s death and so many people are upset about this.
“John and his company are household names across the North East and the Hays brand is well respected across the country, and across the travel industry.
“He built up a major high street presence, a national and international brand from a room in his mother’s shop and this took dedication, drive and determination.
“He was always very loyal to Sunderland and the North East as the company kept its roots here, its HQ did not move to the City of London, it remained in our city centre, and hundreds of Hays employees are based here.
“This loyalty and dedication to our city and region were reasons why he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Sunderland in 2016.”
Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor and chief executive of the University of Sunderland, which awarded Hays an honorary degree in 2010, said: “It is with the deepest regret that we heard about the sudden death of John Hays.
“John was as an outstanding businessman and someone totally committed to the city of Sunderland. He was also a great friend and supporter, as well as an honorary graduate, of the University of Sunderland.
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to Irene and the rest of the family. They will be much in our thoughts at this very sad time.”
Tributes also continued to pour in from across the travel industry following his death, with more than 700 messages of condolence posted on Travel Weekly’s Facebook page.
Many thanked John and Irene Hays for their acquisition of the Thomas Cook retail estate, a move which saved thousands of jobs following the travel giant’s collapse.
Debbie Robinson said: “Such sad news. What John and Irene did last year for the travel industry by saving the Thomas Cook jobs, mine included, I will always be so grateful to them both. Thoughts to Irene and her family at this very sad time x.”
A fundraising page set up in John Hays memory raised more than £10,500 since being setup on Saturday, despite a request for donations to be capped at £5. To donate, click here.
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