TRIBUTES have been paid to a visionary, self made millionaire who brought the mobile telephone to Rhyl.

John Sutherland died at Glan Clwyd Hospital on Saturday, October 12 aged 73 following a battle with pneumonia.

Well known across North Wales, John established a chain of garages in his teens under the name of the Sutherland Motor Company, before reaching new heights opening the first mobile phone shops in the area in the mid 80s.

Maggie Sutherland, John's wife said: "Everybody knew John Sutherland. He made North Wales his home and people here recognised him as one of their own who was dedicated, inspirational and a driving force for the area."

John was born on April 15 1946 in Aintree, near Liverpool, before relocating to Menai Bridge with his family aged 15. At 17, he began an apprenticeship as an electrical engineer at Wylfa power station, before realising a year later that he could make more money selling cars and opening his first garage in Llanfairfechan.

In the mid-eighties, John's vision moved on from motor vehicles, and following his second marriage to Maggie on December 17, 1985 in Gretna Green began building his mobile telephone empire from scratch at a time when the only mast in North Wales was to be found in Gwaenysgor, near Prestatyn.

Following the wedding his family grew from Paul, his son from his first marriage, to include step-children Jason and Rachel - and later six grandchildren and one great grandchild - and they briefly moved to Rhyl before settling in Kinmel Bay.

Maggie added: "John approached Vodafone in 1985, and he told them "I know mobile phones don't work in North Wales - but I'll make them work".

"He started with just one phone in a corner of a stationery shop in Old Colwyn, and a year later we were trading as Telecommunication Consultants and began renting a unit on Wellington Road."

John traded there for five years before a rebrand to Vanguard and relocating to Ffordd Derwen. The company would go on to open eight stores from Bangor to Rhyl, and hire more than 200 members of staff at its height. John sold the company in 2002 - with a £50 million turnover - after receiving liver transplant.

The company had become the second fastest growing in Wales, earned spots on The Sunday Times' Fast Track 100 and the 2002 Who's Who Business Elite and John was nominated for 'Entrepreneur of the Year' by Ernst & Young in both 1999 and 2001.

Not one to rest on his laurels, John continued to work hard, returning to the fold just three months after the transplant and transitioning into buying property.

He also became an Investment Angel for Xenos - a similar mentoring scheme to BBC's Dragon's Den for budding entrepreneurs -where he invested in businesses from Edinburgh to London.

Inspired by his experience during his transplant, John also innovated a unique organ imaging module which he donated to the NHS to help find suitable organs and compatible donors for liver transplants. His inventiveness earned him an NHS Innovator's Award in 2006.

The family will be releasing details of John's funeral in the coming days.