Sir William Wright: tributes paid as Wrightbus founder passes away

Tributes have been paid to prominent Northern Ireland industrialist Sir William Wright, who passed away this morning (July 24).

The renowned Wrightbus founder, who was 94, was knighted for his contribution to industry in 2018.

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said that Ballymena had “lost a giant” with the passing of Sir Wright.

He described Sir William as “a Godly man of faith” and “a loyal Ulsterman”.

He said the well-known businessman was “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. Everywhere there is engineering or manufacturing or sales of busses his genius will be remembered.

“I have had the honour of knowing him and his family for decades. He was both a political and business leader. He cared passionately about the employment and skills training of local people. He loved Northern Ireland and he was dedicated in everything that he did.

Sir William Wright, one of Northern Ireland's best-known business figures, has died. The 94-year-old passed away in the early hours of Sunday morning. The renowned Wrightbus founder was knighted for his contribution to industry in 2018.

“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.”

Sir William co-founded the firm (Robert Wright and Son) with his father following the Second World War.

Wrightbus was the first company in the UK to produce an electric bus.

Former Mayor of Larne Tom Robinson (right) hosted a private dinner where Braid District LOL No18 members, William Smyth and Dessie Gray presented a painting to Sir William Wright in recognition of receiving the honour of Knight Bachelor of the British Empire. INLT 48-001-PSB

It also 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.

It was also the first company to produce a hybrid-electric double decker, and now the first in the world with a hydrogen-powered double decker bus.

When the business fell into financial difficulties in recent years, it was bought by industrialist Jo Bamford.

North Antrim DUP MLA Paul Frew was among the many who paid tribute to Sir William.

Pictured at Wrightbus in 2011 are the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, MP with Group Director Dr William Wright, CBE; Secretary of State, Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP and Minister of State Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP. Picture: Pacemaker

“Sorry to hear news that Sir William Wright has passed away, my thoughts and 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,” he posted on social media.

TUV leader and North Antrim MLA Jim Allister said the passing of Sir William “is 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.

“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.

“I wish to convey to his widow and family sincere Christian sympathy.

Health Minister Robin Swann, UUP North Antrim MLA, described the passing of Sir William as “a tremendous loss not just to his family circle, but also to unionism, the business community, the Loyal Orders and the Christian Church”.

Sending his deep condolences to the Wright family circle, Mr Swann added: “Sir William 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 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.”

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A spokesperson for Ballymena FC said: “Ballymena United are saddened to learn of the passing of Sir William Wright, founder of Wrightbus in 1946 with father Robert. We extend our deepest sympathies to the Wright family.”