Mike Tomlinson, Richard Gillingwater and Sir Gary Verity

Honorary degrees for inspiring Yorkshire sports and charity leaders

The efforts of two inspirational men from Yorkshire in promoting sport and fundraising for cancer charities have been honoured by the OU.

Mike Tomlinson, who has devoted his life to continuing the the extraordinary legacy of his wife Jane - who completed seven years' worth of physical challenges after being given just six months to live - has received an honorary degree from The Open University alongside Sir Gary Verity, the man who bought the Tour de France to Yorkshire in 2014 and continues to fly the flag for local tourism while also supporting cancer charities. The pair received their titles of Master of the University at a degree ceremony at Harrogate International Centre on Friday 18th November.

Mike Tomlinson

Mike Tomlinson at The Open University degree ceremony in Harrogate.

Mike Tomlinson: a family affair

Mike Tomlinson has devoted his life to continuing the extraordinary legacy of his wife Jane Tomlinson, establishing the Run for All initiative which has brought her love of running to people all across Yorkshire.

Jane became a national heroine for her incredible selflessness, determination and resilience while battling cancer. At the age of 36, she was given just six months to live: instead she spent seven years on a series of personal physical challenges, eventually raising nearly two million pounds for cancer research, respite care and nurses.

Since she died in 2007, her family have continued to follow her example. With his daughter Rebecca, Mike has run the London Marathon, then cycled to Paris and completed another marathon. This summer he completed a 39-day ‘Ride to Rio’, ending at the statue of Christ the Redeemer 10 years to the day after Jane finished her journey across America.

Thanks to their efforts and those of many generous supporters, the Jane Tomlinson Appeal has now raised more than £7.5 million over 10 years. Almost all of this has been distributed to an array of children’s and cancer causes across the UK, to help fund services or to buy vital hospital equipment.

The original Run for All race in Leeds has now developed into a series of 10-kilometre events across Yorkshire and a parallel series of longer runs. This year Jane’s daughter Suzanne and her granddaughter Emily both participated in a race, demonstrating that this is very much still a Tomlinson family affair.

Run for All is now one of the biggest not-for-profit event companies in the UK, but remains true to Jane’s original intentions to put on fun, inclusive and accessible events which represent a great day out.

Sir Gary Verity

Sir Gary Verity in his graduation robes at Harrogate International Centre.

Sir Gary Verity: putting Yorkshire on the map

Sir Gary Verity is the Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, and has been responsible for putting Yorkshire firmly on the global stage, most memorably by bringing the Tour de France to Yorkshire in 2014.

After a career in business, Leeds-born Sir Gary joined the Yorkshire Tourist Board, transforming it into Welcome to Yorkshire and steering it to incredible success.  It is now worth £7 billion a year, employing a quarter of a million people and attracting well over 200 million visitors a year.

He made it his personal mission to bring the Tour de France to Yorkshire, which was considered a rank outsider with major cities such as Barcelona and Edinburgh also bidding to host the 2014 Grand Depart.  Sir Gary took senior staff from the Tour on a helicopter ride to show them the stunning views, emphasising Yorkshire’s agricultural economy, and broadcasting a personal bid from Mark Cavendish in Leeds’ main square. He even went as far as mowing an enormous yellow Y into his lawn so that the director of the race could see it from the skies.

Watched by 3.5 billion people across the world, this was widely recognised as the greatest ever Grand Départ. It has added millions of pounds to Yorkshire’s economy, with further benefits in terms of improved public health, investment in sustainable transport and a profound sporting legacy. Yorkshire now plays host to an annual cycling event – the Tour de Yorkshire – which this year also represents the most high-profile and financially rewarding women’s race in the world.

Sir Gary lives on a working farm near Leyburn and is an award-winning sheep farmer on the Dales. Since his late wife was diagnosed with cancer, he has spent much of his spare time fundraising for cancer charities. Over the past decade, he has raised nearly half a million pounds, and has taken on a patron and ambassador role for Marie Curie. Knighted for his services to tourism, he is also a former Yorkshireman of the Year.