A POPULAR gym owner who was known for having big muscles and an even bigger heart has died suddenly aged 47.

Graeme Hussey, from Barnard Castle, died in hospital on September 16 after falling ill with a condition causing blood clots.

Graeme, who owned Brawlers gym in Bishop Auckland, was also well known through his past work as a Darlington bouncer.

Heavily tattooed, with huge muscles built through years of training, he disliked being judged on his appearance and hated his "hard man" reputation.

A generous philanthropist, at Christmas, he liked to play "secret Santa", posting several hundred pounds through a letter box to help a family in need.

Kendra Hussey, his wife of 22 years, said: "He just hated the thought of a child waking up at Christmas with nothing."

Originally from Witton Park, he moved to Barnard Castle after marrying Kendra and was a dedicated family man and father to Ian and Kane.

The Northern Echo:

A former body builder and mixed martial arts fighter, with one professional fight under his belt, he worked on the doors of a number of Darlington venues until leaving due to impending fatherhood. After a spell doing block paving, he set up his gym in Tindale Crescent about 12 years ago.

"I've had so many lads call up to say if it wasn't for Graeme they would be dead or in prison," added Kendra. "He taught them to believe in themselves.

"I've had messages from all over the world. Because he was quite open with struggles with mental health they would reach out to him and he helped them.

"He wanted to help change people's lives the way he had changed his life through training. He used to take on the wayward lads, the ones that people didn't want to teach.

"Because of his tattoos and his muscles people used to judge what he was like. That made him want to give other people a chance. That was massively important to him, that people got to see the real him.

"He looked like a big man but he was a teddy bear, a big gentle giant."

She added: "Everyone who went to the gym became part of the family. He had so many adopted kids who looked to him as a father."

Following his death, an online group has been set up on Facebook for people to share their memories of him and Kendra has been inundated with messages.

She added: "It's been unreal to see just how many people loved him."

His funeral takes place at 11.15am at St Mary's Church, where he was a member, on Thursday, September 30.

His coffin will be painted the Paratrooper maroon, to show his support for the regiment, which he had hoped to join as a boy.

After joining the junior Paras as a 16-year-old, he passed out at 18 but soon after suffered an injury which ended his military career.

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