THE widow of the late travel company boss John Hays, herself a prominent figure in the North-East-based business, has been made a Dame in the New Year Honours.
Irene Lucas-Hays was named as one of 11 women to be conferred as Dame Commanders of the Order of the British Empire (DBE), in her case for services to training, education and young people.
The 66-year-old former chief executive of both South Tyneside and Sunderland councils was awarded a CBE for services to local government, in the 2008 New Year Honours, and received an honorary doctorate from Sunderland University, in December 2018.
She had a long career in local government and, apart from serving as chief executive of the two large local authorities, her last post was at Whitehall, responsible for advising ministers and secretaries of state, with direct accountability to Parliament.
But she said her latest honour was tribute to staff at the business her late husband launched in the back of his mother’s children’s wear store, in Seaham, in 1980.
The couple married in 1997 and have two children.
Dame Lucas-Hays now chairs the company and took over as its CEO upon Mr Hays’ death, after he collapsed at the company’s headquarters office, in Sunderland, in November.
She said news of the damehood was, “bitter sweet”.
“When I first heard I thought I can’t wait to tell John. But, obviously, John is not here to tell.
“He would have been immensely proud the work we have done around apprenticeships has been recognised.”
A long-time advocate of apprenticeships, she dedicated her damehood to Hays Travels’ apprentices and training staff.
“Universities are great for some people and I think colleges are great for some, but I’m clearly passionate about apprenticeships.
“I really do think that in this country they are seriously underrated.
“The reason why I am so passionate about apprentices and apprenticeships is that they have always, consistently added the goods all the way through my career, and in Hays Travel.”
She said apprenticeships were introduced in the travel company’s second year and have “consistently delivered”.
Prior to Hays’ acquisition of Thomas Cook, in 2019, 47-per cent of its senior managers began as apprentices.