Tributes for Tyrone farmer Derek Walker who dies aged 34
A father who led protests against dairy prices paid to farmers in Northern Ireland has died suddenly at home.
Tributes poured in for Co Tyrone dairy farmer Derek Walker - described by many as a "gentle giant" - who passed away on Monday morning.
Mr Walker, who was 34, died at his home close to the family farm at Gillygooley near Omagh. He was married to Michelle and the couple have two young children, four-year-old Jack and two-year-old Gracie.
Derek loved his family dearly and was a very passionate farmer known to everyone. He was also a talented drummer and a member of the Blair Memorial Flute Band in Omagh.
His sudden passing shocked not only farming circles but also the community in Omagh and further afield.
He had been instrumental in helping to organise the farm protests that took place in many supermarkets here.
He also helped set up the farming lobby group Fair Price Farming NI, of which he was a vocal member.
Charlie Weir, the chairman of Fair Price Farming NI, said: "Derek wore his heart on his sleeve. He always stood up for what he believed.
"He loved his farming and his family. It's hard to take in what has happened. Everyone is completely numb about his sudden death.
"I first met Derek six years ago on a farm trip to the USA. I remember he had been cutting silage for two days before that in order to afford the time away.
"He slept for the first two days of the trip to catch up. Since that time I struck up a good friendship with Derek. He had plenty to offer.
"I fondly remember how he addressed people as 'well, sir', as he is the only person I have ever heard come off with that. He was one of the farmers that helped set up Fair Price Farming and we will miss his contributions. I send all our condolences to the family. He will be hugely missed."
Fellow farmer and friend Gareth Sproule from Castlederg also paid tribute.
He said: "I have known Derek since we were 18 and running about together. It was a huge shock to hear of his death. I can hardly believe it because I was talking to him only a few days ago. He was in good form when we spoke.
"After hearing the news I got nothing done on the farm on Monday - and Tuesday was just as bad. It just seemed like I was walking around in the dark. Over the years we drifted apart somewhat, but we became closer friends during the past year. He was fond of his band and the competitions. But he also played a big part in the farm protests. I remember the antics of Derek during the milk protests in the supermarkets. He was some craic.
"Derek would have done anything for anyone, he was that type of person. It's really sad and I sympathise with the entire family."
Derek was preparing for the new band season with Blair Memorial Flute Band.
Bandmaster David Swann said he was a "really gifted drummer".
"He joined last year to help the band celebrate its 40th anniversary and he was all set to return this season," he added.
"Derek was indeed a very gifted drummer and was dedicated to the band. I can only describe him as a gentle giant who helped others. I enjoyed my time with him, but it was way too short.
"The band sends its deepest sympathy to his wife Michelle, the children and wider family circle."
Family friend Isobel O'Brien, who was Derek and Michelle's wedding photographer, said the news was devastating.
"It's so sad," said Isobel. "It really is heartbreaking that Derek has gone.
"I have known the couple since taking the photos at their wedding. They were a really genuine couple and Derek was such a lovely fella."
David Marshall from Omagh Orange Cultural Association said: "Derek was a good lad and friend.
"I send my condolences to his father and member Basil, to his mother Audrey, wife Michelle and the children. It's very sad news indeed."
Hundreds more tributes were paid to Derek on social media from all over Northern Ireland.
Every one of them highlighted the high regard in which he was held as a father, husband, son and farmer.