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Orange Order Grand Secretary Drew Nelson dies aged 60

Orange Institution has lost not only its heartbeat, but perhaps its greatest ever advocate: Grand Master Edward Stevenson

By Jonny Bell

Published 10/10/2016

Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Drew Nelson has died.
Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Drew Nelson has died.
Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge Drew Nelson

Drew Nelson, the Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, has died.

The Order announced Mr Nelson's death on Monday following a short illness. He was 60-years-old.

Drew served as Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland for 12 years, first elected to the position in December 2004.

Previously, he was District Master of Lower Iveagh District in Co Down. Drew was a member of Listullycurran LOL 616. He was also a member of the Royal Black Institution.

During his period of office, Mr Nelson was part of Orange delegations which met senior political and civic figures, including successive First Ministers and Secretary of States, US ambassadors, Taoiseach Edna Kenny, former Irish President Mary McAleese, the then leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, and the SDLP, among others.

Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, led tributes to the respected Dromore solicitor, who played a leading role within Orangeism since his election to office in 2004.

Mr Stevenson said: “Today, the Orange Institution has lost not only its heartbeat, but perhaps its greatest ever advocate.

“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."

From left, Grand Secretary Drew Nelson, Grand Chaplin Rev Mervyn Gibson, Grand Master Edward Stevenson and Deputy Grand Master Rev Alistair Smyth arrive last night
From left, Grand Secretary Drew Nelson, Grand Chaplin Rev Mervyn Gibson, Grand Master Edward Stevenson and Deputy Grand Master Rev Alistair Smyth arrive last night
Senior members of the Orange Order, grand master Edward Stevenson, Belfast county master George Chittick, grand secretary Drew Nelson and deputy grand master Rev Alistair Smyth at the protest camp at Twaddell Avenue
Grand Secretary of the Orange Order Drew Nelson inspects the damage at Aghadavey Orange Hall

Mr Nelson lobbied extensively on behalf of the Orange Institution, including at Stormont and at Westminster, as well as travelling further afield to promote and represent Orangeism. This included a groundbreaking trip to Ghana in 2005 to meet with members of the Institution in west Africa.

The Queen’s University law graduate was a solicitor for 35 years, with his own practice in Dromore, Co Down. He was also a former president of Dromore Chamber of Commerce.

A former part-time officer with the Ulster Defence Regiment, Drew previously completed an army commission course at Sandhurst University.

Prior to his high-profile position with the Orange Institution, Drew was an Ulster Unionist councillor (1993-97) and a former chair of Banbridge District Council. He stood for the party in the 1992 Westminster election in South Down. He left the UUP in 2004.

Up until his death, Mr Nelson was the chairman of the Orange Community Network.

Mr Stevenson continued: “His greatest legacy was perhaps the symbolic visit of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales to the birthplace of Orangeism earlier this year. Such high-level recognition for the Institution, and other acknowledgements by wider civic society, simply would not have happened without Drew’s visionary leadership.”

He added: “The thoughts and prayers of the entire Institution are with the Nelson family circle at this time.”

Deputy Grand Master Harold Henning highlighted the achievements of the senior Orangeman, describing his former colleague as the “modernising force” of the Institution.

He said: “Drew literally was the engine room of the Institution – his enthusiasm knew no bounds. He lived, breathed and loved Orangeism. No other Orangeman, of perhaps any generation, will ever match his motivation and drive to see the Institution succeed and flourish.

“Everything Drew did was thought out, nothing was ever off the cuff. This was very much apparent in his extensive lobbying and interaction with opinion formers, funders and representatives of government.

“Drew played a key role in the derating of Orange halls and was an integral part of the Institution’s ongoing campaign for new parading legislation. He himself was the genesis of the Order’s numerous community development activities, which most recently incorporated the provision of state-of-the-art sporting facilities at Orange properties.

"Drew was also a huge advocate for our younger members, establishing a third-level leadership course, as well as actively supporting the respective Orange societies at our local universities.”

He added: “Drew was a trailblazer for Orangeism – the like of which we will never see again.”

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