Obituary: Sir William Wright, the businessman who put Ballymena on the map
As the family business, started with his father Robert, grew more and more, it eventually became the Wright Group, with Wrightbus as its best-known subsidiary.
As well as growing a small family business into one of Northern Ireland’s largest employers, in the 1970s Sir William began a political career by joining the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party.
He became party chairman and was elected to represent North Antrim in the 1975 Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention election.
Like many members of the Vanguard party, he then joined the Ulster Unionists, which he represented on Ballymena City Council from 1981 to 1985 and again from 1993 to 2005, latterly as an independent trade unionist.
Funeral details released for Sir William Wright as tributes continue to pour in
Sir William was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) on the 2001 anniversary for his service to the bus industry and the community.
He was promoted to Commander of this Order (CBE) in the 2011 Anniversary Honours.
Wright was later knighted in the 2018 New Years Honors.
Mid and East Antrim Council granted Sir William borough freedom in 2019 in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to global trade and the local economy.
At the time, he said: “Receiving freedom from the borough is a great honor, especially since it is conferred by my place of birth, the region where my business is based and a place that I am. proud to call home.”
Wrightbus was the first company in the UK to produce an electric bus.
He also built London’s Routemaster double-decker bus – nicknamed the ‘Boris Bus’ – which was commissioned by the Prime Minister when he was mayor and chairman of Transport for London, the capital’s public transport operator.
For many years Sir William has been a leading proponent of the development of environmentally friendly technology, particularly for the reduction of fossil fuel use and harmful emissions in buses.
Its vision is to improve air quality in cities across the UK and around the world.
Continuing to play an active role in the company, he pioneered the design and development of alternative fuel sources for public transport vehicles, including hybrid, electric and hydrogen technologies.
In 2016, the William Wright Technology Center – a joint venture between the Wrights Group and Queens University – was named in his honor.
It happened as the Wright band marked its 70th anniversary.
The center continues to promote cutting-edge research and engineering to facilitate the creation and incubation of technologies for the future development of the bus industry.
The Queen’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering facility is named after Sir William, not only in recognition of his contribution to industry in Northern Ireland, but also his relentless drive to promote and develop new innovations and technologies to reduce the use of fossil fuels and harmful emissions to the environment.
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council Alderman Noel Williams said: “Sir William was an inspiring engineering pioneer.
“Since it was founded by William and his father, Robert, in a tin shed in 1946, his business has become a world leader in its industry and has provided jobs for thousands of people, especially in the region and surrounding areas.
“Sir William’s vision, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit were exceptional and he put Ballymena, indeed Northern Ireland, on the map of manufacturing excellence.
“He was a leader in industry and commerce.”
Northern Ireland Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said: “Sir William was a man of immense reputation, not only in Northern Ireland’s manufacturing sector, but also within the local community. .
“The legacy he leaves cannot be overstated.”
Sir William was a deeply religious man and was well known in the Braid district as a member of the Orange Order and the Royal Black Institution.
Before becoming Sir William, he was known as Dr William Wright, having held a Doctor of Science degree at both Queen’s University and the University of Ulster.
Sir William was a loving husband to Ruby, Lady Wright and a devoted father to Mandy, Lorraine and Jeff.
He had 10 grandchildren – Fiona, Gregg, Sarah, Christopher, Lauren, Hannah, Kyle, Stacey, Adam and Jack and 13 great-grandchildren – Charlie, Ella, Ollie, Ethan, Dylan, Kingsley, Sophie, Anna, Zach, Georgia, Eli, Ellie Brooke and Elias – all of whom cherished him very much.