The Orange Order has paid fulsome tribute to the man who helped it to turn around its public image over recent years.
As tributes from across the community pour in for Austin Hunter after his sudden death in the Middle East, the Orange Order said that the former News Letter editor had contributed massively to improved relations between its members and the media.
Mr Hunter’s death comes just two months after the death of another man central to reform of the Orange in recent years, Drew Nelson.
Less than two months ago, after Mr Nelson’s death several months after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Mr Hunter spoke to this newspaper about how they had attempted to improve the image of the institution.
Speaking at that point, Mr Hunter recalled how Mr Nelson had approached him after he left his position as editor and engaged him as the Order’s spokesman and media adviser, a position which he held for six years.
He said: “We really set about changing some of the images of the Orange Order.”
Mr Hunter added: “He believed, as do I, that you can’t ask the media to just do good stories all the time – they have the right to do negative stories.”
Today the Orange Order paid warm tribute to a man who did so much to improve its public image.
Grand Master Edward Stevenson described Mr Hunter as “a colossus in the field of journalism and public relations” but also “a man of the utmost integrity”.
He said: “Austin’s experience, advice and know-how were a real asset to the Orange Institution during his period of employment.
“Under his guidance, our members learned that the Institution had an important story to tell and had nothing to fear from sharing its ideals to a wider audience.
“There can be no doubt the Order’s relationship with the media improved immeasurably under Austin’s stewardship. Such a growing rapport will be his enduring legacy towards Orangeism, and one we will seek to maintain in his memory.”
The Royal Black Institution, for which Mr Hunter also worked as a PR consultant, also expressed its regret and sadness at the news.
Sovereign Grand Master Millar Farr said: “Austin had an illustrious career in local journalism and public relations, and we as an Institution were privileged to avail of his expertise and first-hand experience in this field.
“His advice and guidance on many matters always proved invaluable. Austin was admired and respected greatly by senior officers and members alike, and such was his endearing personality, this developed into a strong and close association, and indeed friendship. His knowledge and companionship will be greatly missed.”