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Derek Walker laid to rest: 'gentle giant' farmer who died from a heart attack at age of 34

By Chris McCullough

Published 09/01/2016

Derek Walker and his wife Michelle on their wedding day in 2008
Derek Walker and his wife Michelle on their wedding day in 2008

Upwards of 500 mourners attended the funeral of popular dairy farmer Derek Walker yesterday afternoon in Co Tyrone.

There were so many people in attendance to pay their respects to the "gentle giant" at the service in Drumquin Presbyterian Church that some had to stand outside.

Farmers turned out to show respect for Derek, who was well known in the agricultural industry right across Northern Ireland.

Derek was only 34 and died of a massive heart attack on Monday morning.

He was married to Michelle and was dad to four-year-old Jack and two-year-old Gracie.

He fondly referred to Jack as his best friend.

During the service conducted by the Rev John Hanson both he and guest minister the Rev John Morrow drew attention to the fact that Derek "died from his heart condition and not from self-harming".

Mr Hanson said: "There were many rumours circulating in the area that Derek died from self-harming, but this was not the case and we brought it up in church to end the speculation.

"I knew all about his heart condition as he nearly died about a year-and-a-half ago after collapsing in the bathroom.

"I spoke to him back then and he informed me all about the pressures he was under with the low prices and also because his farm was down with TB, which was affecting his cashflow.

"Derek was a very good worker and was also interested in helping his fellow farmers through campaigns to raise milk prices.

"His alarm went off as usual on Monday morning at 4am, but when he did not switch it off his wife Michelle knew something was wrong. Derek had sadly passed away."

Among the many mourners was friend and fellow dairy farmer Kyle Savage from Donaghcloney, Co Down.

Derek and Kyle were members of Fair Price Farming NI, a lobby group set up to highlight the ongoing problems dairy farmers are facing with low milk prices.

Derek was instrumental in helping organise the milk protests in local supermarkets, when farmers cleared all the dairy produce off the shelves to highlight the low prices they are receiving.

Kyle said: "Derek really was a gentle giant and a well-respected farmer.

"He was under a lot of pressure as his farm was closed down due to an outbreak of TB on top of the crippling low prices.

"Those attending the funeral heard how Derek died of a heart attack.

"He had a heart monitor fitted and suffered a huge heart attack on Monday morning.

"His funeral has really touched me. It was very emotional.

"I have not been at such an emotional service since my dad's funeral over a year ago.

"There were hundreds attending the service, which shows the high respect and regard that Derek was held in.

"People from different religions and different backgrounds from all over the province came to say goodbye to Derek.

"Derek's wife Michelle delivered a warm and glowing tribute to her husband in the church, which I thought was extremely brave and courageous of her."

Derek was also well-known among pipe and flute bands in the local area as he was a gifted drummer and walked with a few bands.

Members of Manorcunningham Pipe Band formed a guard of honour as Derek's body was piped in and out of the church

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