Businessman completes 100km ultra-marathon in memory of Sunderland and Hartlepool hotel boss

More than £5,000 has been raised for a hospice in memory of a much-loved pub boss.

Tuesday, 29th June 2021, 1:25 pm
Jonathan Graham took part in the challenge to raise cash in memory of Mark Hird.
Jonathan Graham took part in the challenge to raise cash in memory of Mark Hird.

Tributes poured in for respected businessman Mark Hird when he lost his fight with cancer in December 2019.

The dad-of-three, of Burdon Village, had built up one of the region’s most successful hospitality groups, Tavistock Hospitality, which operated the Roker Hotel in Sunderland and the Grand Hotel in Hartlepool, and was incredibly well thought of in his field.

In his final days he’d been cared for at St Benedict’s Hospice and his friends and family were so touched by the care he received that best friend Jonathan Graham, from Hartlepool, took on a mammoth challenge to help the hospice in Ryhope.

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Jonathan Graham, left, and Mark Hird, right, were best friends who met at college

He recently took on the equivalent of two-and-a-half marathons back to back, covering a distance of 100km in difficult terrain in the Lakes District, at points reaching 2,500m above sea level.

Jonny did the UltraMarathon with the aim of raising £2,000 but smashed his target twice over, completing the challenge in 17 hours and raising more than £5,000 for St Benedict’s.

Crossing the finishing line was an emotional moment for the operations director, but he says he felt proud to complete the feat in Mark’s name.

Jonny, who regularly ran the 23 miles from his home in Hartlepool to his work place at Roker Hotel as training, said: “I was exhilarated, exhausted, happy, sad and thinking about Mark when I crossed that finish line. It was such a mixed bag of emotions.

Ultra marathon runner Jonny Graham and Mark's widow Nicola Foster-Hird presents raised funds to St Benedict's Hospice chairman Derek Moss in memory of Mark Hird.

"I did five months of training, and as much trail running as I could, but I still didn’t feel as fit as I should have been. The conditions underfoot are so difficult.”

Along with Mark’s widow, Nicola Foster-Hird, Jonny went back to the hospice for the first time since Mark’s death to present the cheque.

"I was more than happy to raise £2,000 for the hospice, so I was blown away when people donated more than £5,000. It shows how much the hospice, and Mark’s memory are thought of,” he explained.

Although the hospice is part funded by the NHS, it relies heavily on fundraising for its registered charity to be able to continue its care provision, including specialist palliative care.

Jonny completed the marathon in 17 hours

Speaking about what the hospice means to people, Jonny said “In the worst possible time, in the darkest of hours, the hospice is so welcoming. Every care and thought is accommodated for. They are so understanding of the heartache you are going through.”

Mark’s legacy still lives on in the Tavistock portfolio and in the many businesses he built, along with wife Nicola, in his 19-year career.

Over the years the pair have had 30 properties, including the Grand Hotel in Hartlepool, the Italia Retro and The Rattler restaurant in South Shields and the White Lead in Hebburn, employing countless people in the region.

Throughout that time, Jonny was the couple’s right hand man as operations director and still oversees the company Mark founded.

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