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Tributes as Northern Ireland business champion Bryan Gray passes away at 65

Tributes have been paid to a former leading local businessman who has died after just three years in retirement.

Bryan Gray had been an important figure in three different sectors, and was chief executive of Manufacturing NI before his retirement in 2013.

Mr Gray, who was 65, had been living in the Philippines with his second wife Angelica, and three children, but passed away on Saturday from lung cancer.

He had played a leading role in the push for a formal retail planning policy here and led lobbying efforts in the campaign to reduce the use of plastic bags.

Born in Ballymena, he was educated at Ballymena Academy and the University of Ulster, where he took a degree in business studies.

For almost 13 years from 1987 he was chief executive of the Federation of the Retail Licensed Trade in Northern Ireland.

In 2000 he became chief executive of the NI Independent Retail Trade Association, where he remained until 2008. For six years after that he was chief executive of Manufacturing NI (MNI), and in 2009 he set up his own firm, Bryan Gray Consulting.

He was asked to step in as chief executive officer of Manufacturing NI when its then CEO Basil McCrea entered politics.

"Bryan was asked to come in and fill the role for six months and ended up staying for six-and-a-half years, which was greatly to our benefit," current CEO Stephen Kelly said.

"But when he retired and went to the Philippines, as far as I know he never came back to Northern Ireland.

"We were all very deeply shocked to hear of Bryan's passing on Saturday night. Bryan's contribution to MNI was immense."

Glyn Roberts, who took over from Mr Gray as NIIRTA chief, added: "I am very sad to hear he has passed on. The best way I would describe him is as a hell of an operator. He was very old-school; a man who called a spade a spade, but very well respected."

Mr Gray is survived by his first wife Cathy, his second wife, children Catherine, Christopher and Isabella, sister Margaret and grandchildren Liam and Charlotte.

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