The Institution would like to play tribute to the life and legacy of Sir William Wright, the legendary industrialist and unionist political leader from Ballymena.

Like his father before him Sir William turned his innovative engineering mind to the family firm which developed into a world leading bus manufacturer. Starting from humble beginnings he built the firm into the makers of the iconic London bus and employed thousands in his Ballymena factory.

His industrial ingenuity and ability will doubtless be reflected on by many in the media and it therefore to his Protestant faith, Orangeism and unionist politics that we reflect. He was a man a deep and personal faith which shaped not only his own life and that of his family but formed his business life too. Wrightbus build the Biblical principle of tithing into their business model with Christian work across the globe being supported by their success.

It is a rare thing indeed to find such a successful firm with Christian principles at its core. Indeed even when in recent years the firm felt the impact of global fuel and other pressures we know that William’s faith carried him through what was a painful and difficult time as he was forced to sell his beloved firm. However it will always be Wrightbus and all it goes on to achieve under new management will be down to the hard work and vision of Sir William.

For William like our own Institution his faith shaped his politics and Orangeism was that faith in action. He worked closely with the Independent Loyal Orange Institution in the early 1970s as we fought to restore democratic government to Stormont. He was a leading figure in the Vanguard Unionist party under Bill Craig and like our own Imperial Grand Masters John Alexander, Cyril Glass and James McClure sat on the United Ulster Unionist Council.

Wright joined the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party in the 1970s and eventually won the position of party chairman. At the 1975 election for the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention, he ran for the party in North Antrim and won.

Later, he joined the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in accordance with the party leaders, and in the 1981 local elections in Northern Ireland, he was chosen to represent this new party in Ballymena Borough Council. He was defeated in the 1985 election and did not run for office in 1989, but he was returned to office in 1993 and again in 1997.

In 1996, Wright ran for election to the Northern Ireland Forum but was unsuccessful.  A strong and vocal opponent of the Belfast Agreement he left the UUP in 1998 and ran as an independent Unionist in the 1998 Northern Ireland Assembly election. Supported by members of the ILOI his campaign both against the Agreement and in the run up to the Assembly elections did much to unite and empower unionism. Sadly he missed the North Antrim seat but his transfers guaranteed anti-Agreement United Unionist candidates held power. He continued to serve on the council through 2001 before resigning in 2005.

He was a prominent and proud Orangeman who realised that the attack on the rights of Orangemen needed not only to be defended on the streets where he played a prominent role in the Drumcree protests but also in the courts. He had the vision to see how this was a question of Human Rights and his support for the victims of IRA terrorism led to his support for the Long March in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The ILOI worked closely with Sir William as he developed a positive rights based approach to the parades and other issues affecting the Unionist community. We worked together on the denial of rights in Dunloy where a local lodge could not walk a few hundred years to their place of worship once a year. His wise council and businesslike approach led to another of his lasting legacies, Ulster Human Rights Watch. This organisation challenged the one-sided Human Rights sector and took up the fight for the Human Rights of Protestants and Unionists.

It’s success in defining the right to parade and its defence of victims is one of his most last yet unheard of legacies. The ILOI are proud to call Sir William Wright a friend and a fellow worker in the cause of freedom and liberty. He was a living example of a true Orangeman and for those of us who worked with him and shared his vision we vow to continue what he started and to fight on for the Human Rights of those so often forgotten.