TRIBUTES have been paid to a “hardworking, fair and honest” businessman who has died at the age of 66.

Keith Blair ran his family's horticultural nursery, JJ Blair and Sons Ltd, in Barmpton Lane, Darlington, for more than 50 years, while his brother, Robin, took charge of their fruit and vegetable stall in the town’s Covered Market.

Mr Blair joined the fourth-generation family business when he left school and helped it go from strength to strength. He looked after all the plants, flowers, and vegetables grown at their four-acre nursery – some of which were later sold on the family’s market stall.

His wife of 37 years, Olwen, described him as a gentle, hard-working man who loved his work.

She said: “It was his hobby and his whole life – he worked incredibly hard and hardly ever had a day off.

“He said he got great enjoyment from planting a seed and watching it grow and knew exactly what the plants needed.

“He was always smiling, and loved helping his customers. He was a quiet man, but would always make time to give people advice on their plants and gardens.”

At the age of five, he began helping his father grow sweet peas at the Barmpton Lane site, and, after leaving school, dedicated his whole life to the family business.

His daughter, Sarah, said: “We used to help him out on weekends and during school holidays for pocket money – he taught us how important it is to work hard.

“He always said if you are going to do a job, you might as well do it right.”

His brother, Robin, who worked alongside him for more than 50 years, said: “He was my right arm, and now my right arm is missing. He was just an amazing man.

“It was the perfect partnership and it was a pleasure to work with him. He was an expert at growing things, while I preferred the retail side and dealing with customers in the market. I just really miss him.”

He died on Tuesday, April 2, and leaves behind his wife, Olwen, 64, three daughters, Emma, 35, Sarah, 32, and Faye, 25, and four grandchildren.

A service to celebrate his life will be held at 1.45pm on Thursday, April 18 at St Andrew’s Church, Haughton Green, Darlington, and all friends and customers are welcome.