Tributes have been paid to the founder of Wrightbus, Sir William Wright, who has died at the age of 94.
Sir William founded the firm in Co Antrim with his father Robert following the Second World War. He also served as a unionist councillor until 2005.
It was the first company in the UK to produce an electric bus.
Wrightbus built London’s Routemaster double-decker – dubbed the “Boris Bus” – which was ordered by the Prime Minister when he was mayor and chair of Transport for London, the capital’s public transport operator.
However, it fell into financial difficulties in recent years and was bought by English industrialist Jo Bamford in 2019.
Stormont Economy Minister Gordon Lyons expressed his sadness at Sir William’s death.
“Sir William was a man of immense standing, not just within Northern Ireland’s manufacturing sector but also within the local community,” he said.
“A pioneer and entrepreneur of rare foresight and ability, for which he was deservedly knighted, Sir William took over the family business and moved it into the construction of buses, a process which saw it become the Wright Group, and grow into the success today that is Wrightbus.
— Economy NI (@Economy_NI) July 24, 2022
“The legacy that he leaves cannot be overstated and I would like to pass on my deepest condolences to Lady Wright and his family at this difficult time.”
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said with the passing of Sir William that Ballymena “has lost a giant”.
He described him as “an entrepreneur without match”, adding: “We will not see his like again.”
In a statement Mr Paisley said: “I wish to extend to Lady Wright and to all the family my and my family’s and our party’s sincerest condolences for their loss.
“Sir William was a giant character. He was one of the last true captains of industry and commerce and a man who has left his mark, not just locally but globally.
Sorry to hear news that Sir William Wright has passed away, my thoughts & prayers are with his family at this sad time. I value the times I worked with William, he was a respected member of the Economic Development Committee that I chaired and he gave so much to Northern Ireland
— Paul Frew (@paulfrewDUP) July 24, 2022
“Everywhere there is engineering or manufacturing or sales of buses his genius will be remembered.”
Mr Paisley described Sir William as a political and business leader who “cared passionately about the employment and skills training of local people”.
“He loved Northern Ireland and he was dedicated in everything that he did,” he said.
“When in his presence you knew you were with someone remarkable. He had that X factor that so few possess. But those who have it make a difference to all around. Northern Ireland was so fortunate to have him as a son.
“To his immediate and extended family. They can take courage in his faith, which was strong. His witness purposeful. At their time of great loss, they know many people across the entire country will be praying for them.”
Ulster Unionist North Antrim MLA Robin Swann said Sir William’s death is a “tremendous loss, not just to his family circle but also to unionism, the business community, the Loyal Orders and the Christian church”.
“Sir William Wright will rank as one of north Antrim’s most legendary figures. He built Wrightbus into a global brand and his dedication to unionism was also known throughout the globe, especially in his past role as a Ballymena councillor,” he said.
“He will always be remembered as a stalwart for Northern Ireland. His very sound political, business and Christian guidance will be very sadly missed by the entire community.”
TUV leader Jim Allister described the death of Sir William as a “sad and seminal moment for the town and community of Ballymena and district”.
“A Freeman of the Borough, few have left such an indelible legacy in terms of lasting jobs and contribution to economic, engineering and manufacturing success in the area,” he said.
“Wrightbus, which he built up so assiduously, remains both a key and large employer in the district and leader in terms of trail-blazing technology, presently evident in the hydrogen and electric bus market.
“Much of this success can be traced to the foresight and leadership of Sir William, an entrepreneur of exceptional talent.
“I wish to convey to his widow and family sincere Christian sympathy.”