Tributes paid to bus builder and trade union politician Sir William Wright

TRIBUTES were paid to Ballymena businessman Sir William Wright, who died aged 94.

Taking over the bodywork business founded by his father in 1946, Sir William then developed Wrightbus into a major manufacturing operation throughout the 1990s, supplying hundreds of buses to Transport for London, including the New Routemaster, often called the Boris Bus. .

He was knighted in 2018 for his services to the economy and the bus industry.

The Wright family ultimately lost control of the business after it collapsed into administration in September 2019.

Sir William also mixed a career in business with politics. He was first elected in 1975 on the Vanguard Unionist Progressive ticket and later joined the Ulster Unionist Party, serving on Ballymena City Council throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

He then left the party, contesting the 1998 assembly election against an official UUP candidate in North Antrim and later sat on Ballymena City Council as an independent. His political involvement continued in 2016, when he supported the Vote Leave Brexit campaign and helped found and chair Ulster Human Rights Watch, which supports victims of terrorism.

DUP MP Ian Paisley Junior, who has known the Wright family for decades, described him as ‘one of the last true captains of industry and commerce‘ and a man who left his mark on the world .

“Wherever there is engineering, manufacturing or selling of buses, its genius will be remembered,” said the MP for North Antrim.

“He was both a political leader and a business leader. He was passionately concerned about employment and vocational training for local people. When in his presence you knew you were with someone remarkable.

Unionist MP for Ulster North Antrim Robin Swann described Sir William’s death as a huge loss to his family, trade unionism, business, the Loyal Orders and the Christian Church.

“Sir William Wright will go down as one of North Antrim’s most legendary figures. He made Wrightbus a global brand and his dedication to trade unionism was also known around the world, particularly in his past role as adviser to Ballymena “said Mr. Swann.

TUV chief Jim Allister said it was “a sad and defining moment for the city”.

He said, “A freeman of the borough, few have left such an indelible legacy in terms of lasting jobs and contributing to the region’s economic, technical and manufacturing success.”

Alliance MP Patricia O’Lynn also expressed her condolences to the Wright family.

“A major aspect of his legacy will be the industrial advancement of electric and hydrogen buses,” she added.

At the time of Wrightbus’ collapse in administration, the Wright family blamed “worldwide shifts from diesel to electric in bus technology”, which they said “caused a sharp drop in demand for buses in the UK”.

It later emerged that Wrightbus’ parent company, the Cornerstone Group, paid £16million over a five-year period to Green Pastures Church founded by Sir William’s son Jeff Wright.

The bus manufacturing business, which was bought by Jo Bamford, has restored most of the 1,200 jobs lost in September 2019, with the group now focusing on electric and hydrogen technologies.

A service of thanksgiving for Sir William will be held at Green Pastures Church in Ballymena on Wednesday.

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