A former Ulster Unionist politician who survived a 1977 bomb attack by the Provisional IRA has passed away.
Joe Gaston, who died suddenly on Thursday, had been elected to the old Northern Ireland Assembly in 1982 for North Antrim, and later served as mayor of Ballymoney for a number of years on three separate occasions from 1986 to 1996.
A farmer and part-time UDR soldier, he was elected to Ballymoney Borough Council as a non-party candidate in 1973 and re-elected in 1977, for the Ulster Unionist Party.
A 2006 article published in the Sunday Tribune described how, in 1977, he lost a leg when an IRA bomb planted in his tractor exploded.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of the father of five’s sudden passing.
Mr Swann, an MLA for Mr Gaston’s old constituency of North Antrim, said: “Joe was one of the great stalwarts of Ulster Unionism in this constituency who was the president of the North Antrim Association of the Ulster Unionist Party.
“He had served North Antrim in the 1982-86 Assembly, in Ballymoney Borough Council where he also served as first citizen, and in the Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue from 1996-98, the forerunner of the current Northern Ireland Assembly.
“He was also a true member of the loyal orders and held county office in the Orange Order.
“However, what Joe will perhaps be best remembered by was his courage and determination to continue serving his community after the cowardly IRA attack on him in which he lost a limb during his sterling service in the Ulster Defence Regiment.
“Joe became a terrific example to all right-thinking people with his determination not to let the attack prevent him from carrying out future civic duties in the various chambers in which he served.
“Joe was not just a great stalwart in unionism, he was a great inspiration and hero to all of us, not just in the UUP, but across the wider pro-Union community.”
He added: “Joe will be sadly missed and I ask all in the community to remember the Gaston family circle in their thoughts and prayers at this difficult and challenging time.
“Joe’s passing may be the end of an era in North Antrim unionism, but let us who follow in Joe’s path ensure that his legacy is that we maintain his determined spirit of serving all of the community in the work we do for party, society and country.”