DUP minister Bell in tears as he recalls 'inspirational' mother
Stormont minister Jonathan Bell has told of the pain and heartbreak he suffered as his late mother died in his arms.
The DUP man twice broke down in tears when speaking of the inspirational role Norma Bell played in his life.
And, in an emotional interview, Northern Ireland's Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister revealed that she was a woman of exceptional and unwavering faith - even when she lost both legs to illness.
Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Bell said his mum, who passed away 13 months ago, was devoted to her family and to God.
Visibly choking back his emotions, the 45-year-old removed his mother's golden wedding band from his wallet, holding it up for a moment.
"A little piece of my mum is with me every day because when she died in my arms they gave her wedding ring to me - at some stage I'll have to give it back to my dad, but he's not getting it yet," he said through tears.
"Mum went through some horrendous things towards the end of her life. She had vascular disease coupled with heart disease. She had both legs amputated at 78."
Mr Bell said his mother - who worked full time, raised three sons and ran a church - lived nine months longer than medical professionals expected.
"In March 2014, they told us mum couldn't pull through," he said between tears. "Her and dad [Fergus] prayed that they would get their 50th wedding anniversary in September 2014 and they got that and were able to celebrate with 50 of their closest friends.
"Mum died on December 17, 2014. It just so happened on that particular night the family were all together. We'd already sent dad home. Mum just passed away, in blissful peace in my arms."
Mr Bell said that although he was a working class boy who grew up on free school meals in the shipyard area of Belfast, and the family had very little, they wanted for nothing.
"Mum and dad were wonderful parents who dedicated themselves to God and to the church," said the Co Down father-of-two.
"Mum was so good to us as children, she was the most outstanding Christian and the most amazing woman I've ever met."
In his most candid interview yet, the former social worker - the youngest of three boys - also revealed he almost died as a child. "My mother had pre-eclampsia and they told her they were going to induce her six to eight weeks prematurely but that I couldn't survive," he said.
"It was 1970. Mum said at that time that God gave her tremendous peace that she would have a third child. I was born and kept in the Royal for a number of months.
"The next major thing was that I took whooping cough, when I was three months old.
"I was taken to the infectious diseases unit at Purdysburn and incubated and they said there was very little chance of survival.
"My dad said they discharged me with the words, 'There is no medical reason why your child recovered'."
The former Junior Minister has had his detractors since joining the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment nine months ago, but he shrugged it off as "par for the course" in politics.