Outpouring of tributes to Hays Travel founder John Hays who was a 'passionate advocate for Sunderland'

A ‘true gent’ and an ‘amazing boss’ who put Sunderland on the map. That’s how the city will remember the well-respected founder of Hays Travel, John Hays, who died suddenly.
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John Hays has been described as a ‘genuine’ and ‘loving’ man who was a passionate advocate for Sunderland and the North East.

The award-winning businessman, who co-owned the travel operator with wife Irene, died after collapsing at the company’s head offices in Sunderland while ‘doing the job he loved’.

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Those who worked for John, 71, have described him as an ‘amazing boss’ who treated his staff like family.

Hays Travel owner John Hays died while 'doing the job he loved' aged 71Hays Travel owner John Hays died while 'doing the job he loved' aged 71
Hays Travel owner John Hays died while 'doing the job he loved' aged 71

There has been an outpouring of tributes paid to John as the city – and the North East – is shook by the devastating news.

Here are some of the beautiful tributes made in John’s honour:

Sharon Appleby, Head of Business Operations at Sunderland BID, said: “Everyone at the BID is shocked and deeply saddened by the terrible news.

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“John was such a passionate advocate for Sunderland and he gave us – like he did so many other organisations – a huge amount of help and support.

John Hays was immensely respected in the city and the business communityJohn Hays was immensely respected in the city and the business community
John Hays was immensely respected in the city and the business community

“He will be a massive miss to the whole city.”

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The legacy and hard work of John Hays as travel firm pays tribute to founder

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.”

Steph McGovern, North East born journalist and TV presenter, tweeted: “Am devastated John Hays has died. He was one of the good guys in business. He cared so much about his staff+did loads for the region. A true philanthropist. We met years ago at a charity event helping young people into work+became good friends. All my thoughts with Irene+family.”

Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland, said: “It is with the deepest regret that we heard about the sudden death of John Hays.

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“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.”

Leader of Sunderland City Council, Councillor Graeme Miller said: “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.

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"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.

"Whether it was promoting apprenticeships or his involvement with Sunderland AFC, John was a player in the life of our city as he remained very true to his roots and his community responsibilities.

"Our thoughts and sympathies go out to his wife Irene, family, his many, many friends, and everyone at Hays Travel.

"The death of John is a great loss to everyone in Sunderland, to the region, and so many people across the country and the world.”

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Jonathan Lamb, chief executive of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, said: “John was a true champion of the North East and was the very epitome of an entrepreneur, starting Hays Travel from his mam’s children’s clothing shop and building it up to become the UK’s largest independent.

“He was one of the Forum’s first board members and won its very first Entrepreneur of the Year award back in 2004 and continued over the years to offer inspiration and sage advice to a new generation of business leaders through his regular contributions to our member events.

“John will be remembered both as a true businessman and gentleman. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and the Hays Travel team at this very sad time.”

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