Tributes have poured in for a "much loved" family man and businessman who died after contracting coronavirus.

John O'Conner, 79, died at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage on Tuesday after he was diagnosed with the virus on March 12.

Due to underlying health conditions, Mr O'Conner was moved into an intensive care unit but he sadly died this week.

A father-of-two, Mr O'Conner was chairman of grounds maintenance company, John O'Conner Grounds Maintenance, which works across Hertfordshire, particularly in Hertsmere and St Albans.

Originally from a farming background, Mr O'Conner was born in Sussex but spent his formative years in Surrey before moving to north London at the age of 18.

He then joined what was then the General Post Office, training as a telephone engineer.

After relocating to Stevenage in the mid 1960s, Mr O'Conner started carrying out gardening jobs, and in 1969, started up John O'Conner Grounds Maintenance, with his first annual turnover topping £261.

Watford Observer:

John O'Conner pictured in the 1970s using a knapsack sprayer 

Watford Observer:

John pictured on a triple mower

Over the years, the company grew steadily with new premises being purchased and the numbers of employees increasing year on year; there are now more than 500 staff.

In 1999, the company was awarded its first £1m contract with St Albans City & District Council, with whom it is still working with today.

Mr O'Conner, former chairman of the British Association of Landscape Industries, continued to play an active role in the company before he was admitted to hospital earlier this month.

Watford Observer:

Mr O'Conner, centre, celebrating his company's 50th anniversary with staff from headquarters

Watford Observer:

John was former chairman of the British Association of Landscape Industries

His son, Matt, managing director of the company, said; "My father played an active role in the company up to the time of his passing and his strong principles and values will remain the bedrock of the business. He showed great passion, not only for his business, but the industry as a whole.

"He was an immense character and much loved family man who will leave a long and lasting memory for all who met and knew him."

Watford Observer:

Matt, left pictured with his father

John O'Conner was known for his love of cars and in the early 2000s, became instantly recognisable with his very apt personalised number plate “Mow It”.

In his spare time, Mr O'Conner was a member of the Rotary Club and was extremely proud to receive the Paul Harris Fellow.

Watford Observer:

His other great passion was the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ story and was a collector of Captain Bligh memorabilia.

Mr O'Conner had visited the Pitcairn Islands on several occasions and had struck up lifelong friendship with descendants of the mutineers. On his visit to the Pitcairn Islands in 2005, heavy storms kept him on the island for five weeks with no contact with his family.

He eventually managed to convince the captain of a converted oil rig boat to take him on a three week voyage to New Zealand, where he caught a flight home.

When Mr O'Conner's death was announced earlier this week, dozens of messages of condolence were left across social media.

In particular, his company is well-known in Hertsmere because of a long-standing contract with Hertsmere Borough Council.

The leader of Hertsmere Borough Council, Morris Bright, said: "We are greatly saddened to hear of the passing of John O'Conner.

"He and his company have been responsible for keeping Hertsmere looking clean and green with the work they have carried out on our vast amount of green spaces, including cutting the grass and annual planting of flowers and displays.

"Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time."

Welwyn-based John O'Conner Grounds Maintenance said finally that John O'Conner will be sadly missed by so many people throughout the industry and the thoughts are with son Matt, daughter Liz, and the rest of his family.

In Hertfordshire, there have been eight confirmed coronavirus-related deaths.

Four have been at Watford General Hospital and four at Lister Hospital in Stevenage. All of the patients who have passed away were aged in their 70s and 80s and they all had underlying health conditions.

Nationally, there have been 759 deaths.

The latest figures show there have been 206 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Hertfordshire.