Hays Travel has confirmed that the companies founder, John Hays, has died.
John, who was married to co-owner Irene Hays, passed away on November 13.
Hays Travel issued a statement confirming Mr Hays’ sudden death at the Sunderland office.
A statement from the firm said: “It is with the deepest sadness and regret that we have to announce that John Hays, the founder and Managing Director of Hays Travel died today, while doing the job he loved.
“John, who with his wife and co-owner Irene Hays bought the Thomas Cook retail estate a year ago, was at work in the company’s Sunderland Head Office when he collapsed.
“John built Hays Travel into the UK’s largest independent travel agent providing jobs and careers for thousands of young people over 40 years.
“Throughout this past difficult year he did everything in his power to save jobs and protect the travel industry.
“He was held in immense respect by his staff, colleagues, family and friends and was recognised throughout his life for his many achievements.
“He was equally proud of his loyal staff who, under the direction of the board and senior management team, will ensure that the business continues to serve the customers of the UK’s largest independent travel agent as he would have wanted.”
Mr Hays founded Hays Travel in 1980 with its first branch in Seaham.
Mr and Mrs Hays were last year praised after the firm purchased every Thomas Cook branch, retaining staff, following the travel operator’s collapse in September.
The team at Northern Ireland Travel News send our heartfelt condolences to Irene Hays, the Hays family and the entire team across all the Hays Travel branches. We are thinking of you all at this very sad time.