The Bishop of Down and Dromore has paid warm tribute to renowned hotelier Sir William Hastings following his death at the age of 89.
Sir William died peacefully at home on Friday following a short illness, surrounded by Joy – his wife of 57 years – and children Julie, Howard, Allyson and Aileen.
Owner and founder of the Hastings Hotels group, which includes the Europa Hotel, Sir William was a key figure in the region’s hospitality and business sectors for six decades.
Expressing his sadness at Sir William’s passing, Rt Rev Harold Miller said the hotelier – who was a regular worshipper in Down Cathedral – “contributed enormously” to the development of the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland during and after the Troubles.
He added: “Most people would have given up, but Billy’s steely determination and love for his homeland meant that he kept going – sometimes almost alone.
“He was a big presence and will be greatly missed.”
Sir William was credited with investing in the hotel industry in NI through the dark days of the Troubles.
Former Lord Mayor and High Sheriff of Belfast, Alderman Jim Rodgers said it was “especially sad” that Sir William did not live to see the opening of the new Grand Central Hotel in Belfast.
“He was very excited about it when I spoke to him at its launch and he couldn’t wait until it opened its door,” Ald Rodgers added.
“He was a man I looked up to and I held him in the highest regard.”
Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey hailed Sir William as a “leading light” in NI’s tourism and hospitality industry.
He added: “The Sir Billy Hastings that I knew was a man of huge resilience and determination. He will be missed by many but especially his family. My thoughts and prayers are with them.”
Growing up in the Malone area of Belfast, the young Billy Hastings knew of Joy Hamilton for a number of years before their courtship began.
Eventually they were introduced to each other and their relationship flourished.
Speaking to the News Letter earlier this year, Sir William said the secret to a happy union is quite straightforward.
“You start off with a romance, then you get married, and things go pretty well.
“As time goes on, I wouldn’t say romance fades, but romance gets overtaken by a series of things as the years go on and the main ingredient from that point on is mutual respect.
“If you have mutual respect everything will last for ever.’’
A spokesperson for the Hastings family said Sir William’s funeral arrangements are still being finalised.