When Dr David Hume posted his announcement on Facebook that he was stepping down from his role as director of services in the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, he received a response that he never expected.
“It had something like 386 likes, and I received 200 messages of support,” says the softly spoken Ballycarry man, who held the position for over 12 years.
He had told his followers that following a human resources review, the position was being axed and he felt that “the safest financial option” for his family was a redundancy package.
The news came as a huge shock to the Orange community - and to him. “It wasn’t my choice of how things would go, and redundancy is a very cold place to be when it happens to you,” he tells me, as we drink coffee in the lobby of a local hotel.
“I’ve gone through all the emotions attached to it. I’ve been very positive, but it’s a very negative thing to happen. I’m being very philosophical about it. I was 12 years in the post and think I made some contribution to the organisation in that time, and am moving on.”
David explained that two other posts were phased out under the review as well. A new post of chief executive officer was created, he says, but he failed to match the criteria.
“There was a high level of risk in terms of applying for that post and getting it, so I felt voluntary redundancy was the safest financial option,” he says.
The review of staffing levels within the GOL came on the heels of the opening of the impressive new Museum of Orange Heritage at Schomberg House in Belfast last year, a project which, ironically, David had been involved with since its very inception.
And he agrees with me that the spectacular facility, which he says “raises the bar considerably” in terms of highlighting the history and culture of the institution, is one of the things he is most proud of from his time there.
“It was such a major undertaking, and we had a very good team of staff who worked really well together,” he says.
“To be able to be involved in creating a museum from scratch - which is what we did - with none of us really coming from museum backgrounds, and to be able to do all that as a team I think was one of my proudest moments.”
He laughs as our conversation turns to other career highlights, and confesses that although he has made a list, there remain “so many things that it’s difficult to remember them all.”
Refreshingly, he places great importance on the grassroots work done by the organisation, the reaching out to the local community, particularly, he says, in the maintained sector.
“It was very, very important for us to be welcomed into schools in places like north Belfast and Bessbrook. I felt very privileged to have that opportunity, and took great heart from the engagement that went on. There was a good deal of open-mindedness from within that community.
“If Northern Ireland is going to go forward in the future, then those are the people who will bring it forward.”
He stresses how vital he feels it is for the Orange Order to reach out to communities.
“I felt at times that there had been quite a deliberate attempt over the years to sideline the Order, to blacken us and to push it to the fringes effectively. And I think a lot of that was coming from the Republican community, so I believe that one thing that needed to be done was for the Order to be made mainstream, involved in communities; it needed to outreach and engage and not be insular - and I think that has happened.”
Within the Orange Order itself, there were career highlights too for David, including the Orange Community Awards, which are held on an annual basis, and recognise and reward excellence within the Loyal Order and the marching bands fraternity.
David says he had felt there was a need for such a scheme because people were doing “very positive things” that they weren’t being recognised for. And he feels that the introduction of them has resulted in a culture of change. Similarly, the introduction of the flagship Twelfth venue scheme is something else he feels intensely proud to have been involved in.
This was introduced in 2006 following discussions with the Tourist Board about making the parades more attractive to visitors from abroad.
“The focus on the Twelfth had often been the difficulties, and I think that the flagship programme showed that there was another way.”
David Hume has always been a man who practises what he preaches; he’s been a member of his own local lodge in Magheramorne, just outside Larne, since 1986. It’s a “very average country lodge” with 42 members and a silver band. “My late father was a member, and would have taken me as a wee boy to the Twelfth. He died when I was 21 and I wasn’t a member at that time,” he says.
However he eventually did join, as he discovered that this sense of family tradition became important to him. And he admits that after leaving his post as the Order’s director of services, he did question whether he should leave the organisation altogether. He decided not to, citing the friendships he had made with not just his own brethren, but Orangemen right across the country, as being the main reason he stayed. “I think it is difficult for people to define why they belong to the Orange Order, and what they actually get out of it,” he concludes. “It’s very difficult to define. I think there’s a sort of DNA to it, effectively. I know that my father and grandfather were involved, and whenever we walk down the road, there are men in their 60s thinking the same thing. That’s a sort of unique social bond, and that’s one of its big strengths. It’s a hard thing to define. It’s in the DNA.”