Drew Nelson: Eulogy tells of ‘big Orangeman with tender heart’

Mourners gather outside St John's Church near Hillsborough before the funeral of Drew Nelson
Mourners gather outside St John's Church near Hillsborough before the funeral of Drew Nelson

A touching eulogy at the funeral of Drew Nelson described the “tender heart” of a “big, strong Orangeman” who put his family first.

Rev David Pierce spoke fondly of a man he described as more than the public figure and the “leader of men”.

He spoke about Mr Nelson’s life in terms of his personal relationships and the love he had for his family as well as his qualities as a leader and prominent member of the community.

He spoke about the man who grew up on a farm in Co Down, the solicitor, the loving son, the man prepared to serve his country with the UDR, and the man who cared deeply for his family.

Rev Pierce said: “Many eloquent tributes have been made in recent days concerning Drew Nelson the public figure but I want to share something of the parishioner and friend I have known for nearly 17 years.

“Many of you have known him for much longer. I share your pain. I speak to you today as Drew’s minister but also as his friend.

“It is impossible for me adequately to describe all the roles and relationships around which Drew’s life revolved. He was one of Northern Ireland’s greatest leaders, not just through the Orange Institution but also in civic and community life. He was a leader of men, but also a humble man. He didn’t seek the limelight but he was the greatest of men.

“Drew was first and foremost a family man. He was born on August 3 1956, the son of Stanley and Meta Nelson. Their farm was at Fort Hill, Listullycurran, Dromore. Drew had one brother, Brian. The farm was a busy place with Drew and his late brother Brian helping out with all of the jobs associated with a farm in the 1960s and 70s.

“Drew and Brian had a very happy childhood, playing with neighbours and cousins Sean Beamish and Ian McGimpsey on summer visits. I remember Drew telling me how as youngsters Brian and himself used to kick football in the yard – carefree days.

“The death of his father Stanley on July 14, 2003, and the death of his brother Brian on February 3 2012 were huge blows to Drew but he found the strength to carry on, difficult as it was.

“Drew was a principled man who never shirked responsibility. He joined the Ulster Defence Regiment in 1977, prepared to lay his life on the line for Queen and country and to maintain the Union. The Ulster Defence Regiment paid a heavy price as a result of the awful terrorist campaign waged against our country. Drew shared this pain deeply.”

Rev Pierce added: “When Drew became ill in May his thoughts were not of self pity, rather his concern was for his mother Meta and (sister-in-law) Janet and the boys who had so tragically lost Brian after a similar illness a few years previously.”