A charity champion whose running endeavours made him a firm favourite in the hearts of the people of South Tyneside has died.
Jim Purcell, known affectionately as ‘Jarra Jim’, died yesterday morning after a short stay in hospital.
Jim, who was 96, first took up running in 1986, following the death of his wife Betty.
Over the years he has raised thousands of pounds for children’s charities, collected a number of medals and trophies in recognition of his charity work, and been snapped with sporting celebrities.
He was also selected as one of the people to carry the Olympic torch when it passed through South Tyneside in 2012.
But it was his love of people and his passion for running – even well into his 90s which made him a South Tyneside icon.
The Dunkirk veteran was also a familiar face at the world’s biggest half-marathon the Great North Run.
Today, his family confirmed the popular fun-runner, who has touched the lives of so many, died this morning after suffering from the effects of pneumonia.
Tributes to the much-loved pensioner have started to come in, with Morrison’s in Jarrow the first to come foward to pay their respects.
Jim had become a regular visitor and had often hosted a charity table at the store.
In 2015, two of the store’s workers stepped in to help Jim take part in the Great North Run after his participation in that year’s event was thrown into doubt due to his leg problems.
But Chris McStea and and Gordon Williams – who has since left the store – joined the then 94-year-old on the 13.1-mile route by pushing him in a wheelchair before helping him walk over the finishing line in South Shields.
Speaking at the time, Jarra Jim said: “I knew this time if I started the run I would not be able to finish it – and I have never dropped out of a race in my life.
“It broke my heart when I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it.
“I love the Great North Run, it is a fantastic event and I feel very privileged at times with everything that has happened.
“When Gordon said he would push me in the wheelchair it was great news, as it meant I could take part.”
Community Champion at Morrisons Andria Williams said: “On behalf of myself, Chris McStea and the rest of the colleagues, we are very saddened to hear the news Jim has died.
“He was a true gentleman who contributed his whole life to charity.
“He was a regular visitor to the store and he will be greatly missed. It’s just so sad.”
A spokesman for Great North Run continued the tributes, and said: “We are extremely saddened to hear that Great North Run legend, ‘Owld Jarra Jim’ Purcell, has passed away aged 96.
“For many years, Jim was one of the event’s most popular local runners, inspiring people of all ages to take on the challenge.
“He will be fondly remembered by everyone at the Great North Run, our thoughts are with his family and friends today.”
Brendan Foster, founder of the Great North Run, has also paid tribute to one of the event’s most famous runners.
He said: “Like everyone at Great Run, I was extremely saddened to hear about Jim’s passing. He’s been a big part of the event for over 30 years and I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for the fact he was in his 60’s when he took it on for the first time.
“Jim truly embodied the spirit of the Great North Run, which celebrates ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I’m sure his legacy will be inspiring runners of all ages for a long time to come.”
Jarrow and Hebburn MP Stephen Hepburn said: “I had the pleasure of knowing Jim for many years. He was a true Jarra legend and an inspiration for his tireless contribution to our local community, such as his charity fund-raising work which raised so much money for good causes. He was a lovely and kind-hearted man who will be sorely missed by so many people in this area and my thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”
Mayor of South Tyneside Coun Olive Punchion added: “We are saddened to hear of the loss of Jim Purcell, fondly known as ‘Jarra Jim’.
“Our thoughts are with Jim’s family and friends at this sad time. He was an outstanding individual whose tremendous charity work supported people across the borough and the wider region.
“Jim was dedicated to Jarrow and the Great North Run and made an amazing contribution to the local community through his work with the church, his fund-raising for charity and his other tireless voluntary work.
“He was a true old solider and a terrific fundraiser who has helped so many through his running and kind heartedness.”