Floral tributes laid outside Sunderland travel boss John Hays’ head office

Heartfelt floral tributes have been left outside the headquarters of Hays Travel following the death of the company’s founder.

Tributes flooded in for John Hays after his sudden death at the age of 71 on Friday.

Hays Travel announced on Friday that Mr Hays died after collapsing at the firm’s head office in Sunderland “while doing the job he loved”.

One touching tribute said: “John will be a huge miss.

“John will always be remembered fondly and never forgotten.”

Another said: “RIP John Hays ‘Mr Sunderland’, a true gentleman”, with another saying: “A true gentleman.”

Floral tributes outside Hays Travel head office on Keel Square, Sunderland

During his glittering career, the Sunderland entrepreneur turned a business started in his mum’s kid’s clothing shop into the UK’s biggest independent travel retailer.

Friends and associates have remembered a man who was a true champion of the North East, creating jobs at a business that is one of the region’s great success stories.

“The world lost an exceptional man today,” said Paul Callaghan, of the Leighton Group.

Hays Travel announced on Friday that Mr Hays died after collapsing at the firm’s head office in Sunderland “while doing the job he loved”.

Footballers and TV stars have since honoured a legacy which extends beyond the business world.

Among them, Niall Quinn, who was a member of the Drumaville consortium which bought Sunderland AFC back in 2006.

Floral tributes outside Hays Travel head office on Keel Square, Sunderland

The former striker, who became chairman with Mr Hays acting as vice-chairman, said: “Players have teammates in the dressing room, and when I became chairman John was my teammate in the boardroom.

“He was there alongside me every day, for no other reason than because he loved the club.”

And it is the business world where John made his biggest mark. His firm grew so much that, a year ago, he and wife Irene bought the Thomas Cook travel agency after it went bust last year.

His passing has left the region’s business community numb.

James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East England Chamber of Commerce, said he had known John for over 30 years.

“This tragic news goes far beyond Hays Travel and will be sorely felt throughout the North East business community.

“John established a great company that did so much to help so many people over the last 40 years.”

Donations have flooded in for the Hays Travel Foundation in John’s memory.

Founded in 2015, the charity creates opportunities for youngsters to help them achieve their potential and is deemed one of John’s “proudest achievements”.

A post on the page reads: “We have been overwhelmed by the messages and condolences received for John Hays.”

“If anyone would like to make a donation in his memory, Irene would be grateful for a £5 donation (no more) to be made to the Hays Travel Foundation which was one of John’s proudest achievements.”

To donate, go to www.gofundme.com/f/john-hays

Chronicle Live – Sunderland