'Heartbeat of protestant loyal order' Drew Nelson dies aged 60
A senior Orangeman described as the heartbeat of the protestant loyal order has died.
Co Down solicitor Drew Nelson, the institution's grand secretary, died on Monday morning aged 60 after a short illness.
The Orangeman was a high-profile spokesman and advocate for the organisation. He led numerous Orange delegations in political talks with leaders on both sides of the border.
He was also involved in outreach initiatives that led to meetings with the Irish President, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland and saw him address the Irish Senate.
Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Edward Stevenson paid tribute to the stalwart of Orangeism.
"Today, the Orange Institution has lost not only its heartbeat, but perhaps its greatest ever advocate," he said.
"Drew was a towering figure within the Orange fraternity, whose commitment and devotion to the principles of Orangeism are simply unrivalled.
"No other individual, over the course of the past decade, has done more to champion the cause of the Institution and its membership. His contribution to promoting a tradition he was immensely proud to represent, was truly outstanding.
"Whether it be in the lodge room, the boardroom or the confines of the highest political office, Drew was in his element. His well-informed, articulate and thoughtful viewpoint would always captivate his target audience.
"Whilst never compromising his beliefs as a principled and unashamed Unionist, Drew's pragmatism and strategic vision played a key role in the Institution's evolution as a major stakeholder in this Province, and its ongoing community outreach. Indeed, his historic address to the Irish Senate in 2012 broke new ground in this regard."
Mr Stevenson suggested Mr Nelson's greatest legacy was this year's visit by the Prince of Wales to the Orange Order's museum in Loughgall, Co Armagh.
It was the first occasion such a senior Royal had visited an Orange Order facility.
"Such high-level recognition for the Institution, and other acknowledgements by wider civic society, simply would not have happened without Drew's visionary leadership," said Mr Stevenson.
He added: "The thoughts and prayers of the entire Institution are with the Nelson family circle at this time."
Mr Nelson served as grand secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland for 12 years, first elected to the position in December 2004.
He was also a member of the Royal Black Institution.
A former part-time officer with the Ulster Defence Regiment, Mr Nelson previously completed an army commission course at Sandhurst.
He served as an Ulster Unionist councillor in Banbridge in the mid-1990s, leaving the party in 2004.
A keen history buff who enjoyed travelling, Mr Nelson was also the chairman of the Orange Community Network.