Tributes have flowed in throughout the afternoon for highly-respected Co Armagh businessman and farmer Dean Wright, after his sudden passing this weekend.
Forty-eight-year-old Dean, the owner of Ballylisk of Armagh, has won numerous awards for his fine fayre over the years and won an army of fans for his superior produce.
And those involved in the catering and hospitality industry who have worked closely with Dean, as well as local politicians, have been expressing their shock and sadness upon hearing of the devastating news of his sudden death, at Brackagh Road in Portadown.
Social media has been awash with tributes to an inspirational and innovative businessman who did so much for his local community and who was held in such high regard.
Just weeks ago Dean had spoken to Armagh I of his plans for 2021, which included reducing the carbon footprint of Ballylisk and securing deals to supply his new brie – the only such locally-produced cheese in Northern Ireland – to supermarkets on both sides of the border and in other jurisdictions within the UK.
Saturday’s news has completely stunned the local community and the words which have been offered – in tribute and in fond recollection – are both fitting and sincere.
The award-winning Wine and Brine restaurant in Moira said Dean was an “absolute gentleman” and added: “Our sincere condolences to his family at this time.”
Fellow cheese producer, Mike’s Fancy Cheese, which is based in Belfast city centre, spoke of the sadness felt after learning of Dean’s passing.
He said Dean was a “huge character in the food community here in Northern Ireland” and described him as a “straight talking gent who would always give you his time”.
Rosemount Cottage Farm Meats, located on the Ardress Road, offered sympathy to the family.
“We worked with Dean through the farm shop, stocking the famous Ballylisk cheeses,” they said. “We would like to pass on our thoughts and deepest condolences to his family and friends at this time.”
The Portadown-based Church Street Pantry coffee shop said they too were deeply saddened.
And they added: “Starting our new business we have been keen to work with local businesses and when Dean visited the shop to deliver our first round of milk earlier this week he was just as enthusiastic to be working with us, sharing the ethos of reducing single use packaging and carbon footprint.
“His passing is such a loss not only to his family but to the wider community and businesses.”
The Lighthouse Bistro in Whitehead offered condolences.
They said: “We are very sad to hear of the passing of Dean Wright. A lovely man and creator of the top class international selling cheese Ballylisk Triple Rose which had become a staple of our cheeseboard.
“Dean produced Ballylisk cheese from his own herd in his County Armagh farm, winning numerous awards and contracts with his fantastic product. A great loss.”
Local political representatives and elected councillors, past and present, have been paying tribute too.
Upper Bann DUP MP Carla Lockhart said it was “devastating news”.
“My thoughts and prayers are with Dean’s family and friends” she said. “I had reason to speak with Dean recently about his business and found him to be a gentleman. Such a shock to his family and the local community.”
Former SDLP Lord Mayor Mealla Campbell visited Ballylisk during her term in office last year when she spoke to Dean about his cheese and future plans for his business.
She said she was “heartbroken” to learn of Dean’s passing and added: “He was a real gentleman, so personable and keen to promote his product and his local area.
“A very inspiring man who will be dearly missed by all within the community. My heart goes out to his family and friends at this very difficult time.”
Independent Unionist Councillor and Tandragee businessman Paul Berry said the community was in shock.
“Dean was one hard working person and really will be missed by many,” he added.
Ulster Unionist group leader on ABC Council, Alderman Jim Speers, said the loss of Dean was “an absolute tragedy for the family, local community and the entire farming and food sector within Northern Ireland”.
“I have known Dean, along with his mum and dad and the entire family circle for all my adult life,” he said. “They are a very hardworking and respected family. I extend my deepest heartfelt sympathy to the the entire family at this difficult time.”
Fellow Ulster Unionist Councillor Jill Macauley had been speaking to Dean last week.
She said: “Just last Friday he joined us for our UUP business engagement meeting to talk about the NI Protocol. He was as ever undoubtedly passionate about his business, outlining both the difficulties and opportunities as he saw them of the current challenges.
“He was always the optimist, seeing opportunities through his great Ballylisk of Armagh brand, and was a fantastic ambassador for Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council and indeed Northern Ireland. He will be sadly missed.
“My thoughts are very much with his dear family at this incredibly difficult time.”
Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin said he was “shocked and saddened” to hear of the sudden death.
“This is very tragic news and I express my sincerest sympathy and condolences to the entire Wright family at this very difficult time,” he said. “Dean was a well known individual in the district and a hard working farmer whom I had gotten to know well over many years.
“I had spoken to him many times as he actively worked developing new products using milk from his busy dairy farm and I know that his products, such as his Ballylisk cheese, were so popular in the district and indeed in markets much further afield. He will be sorely missed by his family and the wider community.”
Local Alliance Party representative Jackie Coade said she was “absolutely gutted” to learn of Dean’s passing.
She said: “Dean was always a gentleman. He was so proud of their product.
“I was speaking to him a few weeks ago and we had a great discussion about their success. He was so full of life and enjoyed the craic.
“Thoughts are with his family, friends and those who loved him dearly. Such sad news.”