The Banbridge district is mourning the loss of Orange Order Grand Secretary Drew Nelson, who passed away on Monday, October 10 after a short illness.
Heartfelt tributes have been paid to the 60-year-old Dromore solicitor, who was a former chairman of Banbridge District Council.
Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, led the tributes, describing Mr Nelson as “the heartbeat of the Orange Order” and “perhaps its greatest ever advocate.”
“Drew was a towering figure within the Orange fraternity, whose commitment and devotion to the principles of Orangeism are simply unrivalled. No other individual, over the course of the past decade, has done more to champion the cause of the Institution and its membership. His contribution to promoting a tradition he was immensely proud to represent, was truly outstanding,” he said.
Describing the former UUP councillor as “a trailblazer for Orangeism – the like of which we will never see again”, Deputy Grand Master Harold Henning commented: “Drew literally was the engine room of the Institution – his enthusiasm knew no bounds. He lived, breathed and loved Orangeism. No other Orangeman, of perhaps any generation, will ever match his motivation and drive to see the Institution succeed and flourish.”
Mr Nelson’s long-term business partner, solicitor Lewis Singleton, said his friend had dedicated his life to helping others.
“He always practised in Dromore and he always lived in Dromore – was very much of his community. He lived amongst his clients as any good country solicitor does,” Mr Singleton said.
“Drew spent his whole life giving back to his community and he saw the Orange Institution as a way of doing that.”
Mr Singleton said his friend’s tireless work as an ambassador for the Order was unprecedented – particularly around the new museums of Orange heritage in Belfast and at Sloan’s House in Loughgall.
Politicians from across Northern Ireland have also paid tribute to Mr Nelson.
Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson described him as “a gentleman and an ambassador for the Orange Order”, while Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said Mr Nelson was “a lovely man” and his passing was “a huge loss to the Loyal Orders.”
Ulster Unionist Party MLA Danny Kennedy commented: “Drew was a significant figure within the Orange Order, leading change in the organisation, change that saw its image and reputation improve significantly across the world.
“Drew’s commitment to the Orange Order and his desire to improve life in Northern Ireland was obvious.”
Lagan Valley MLA Brenda Hale added: “Drew was a true gentleman and he will be greatly missed by his mother, sister-in-law and nephews. His death will also be deeply felt across the Orange fraternity and throughout Northern Ireland.
“Drew fought a courageous battle against illness and my thoughts and prayers are with his family circle at this difficult time.”
South Antrim MLA David Ford said Mr Nelson had “played a key role in the Orange Order in recent years, particularly in seeking to move the organisation forward and recognising the new reality of Northern Ireland society.”
“I always had positive engagements with him in his role, both from an Alliance perspective and while Justice Minister. My deepest condolences go out to his family, friends and colleagues on his passing,” the former Alliance leader said.