The DUP leader has led tributes following the death of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s father.
Arlene Foster said Kilkeel veteran Jim Donaldson was a big character who served his country with distinction.
He was in the Ulster Defence Regiment for 26 years.
He was a big character in the kingdom of Mourne and someone who served his country with distinctionArlene Foster
Mr Donaldson was a “much-loved” grandfather, great-grandfather and brother, a funeral notice said.
He is survived by his wife Annie and eight children.
Mrs Foster said: “He was a big character in the kingdom of Mourne and someone who served his country with distinction.
“I know he was incredibly proud of his family and they were so important to him.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, his funeral will be private.
Mrs Foster added: “I send my heartfelt sympathy and love to the whole family at this saddest of times.
“They will know that they are in the prayers of many across Jim’s beloved Northern Ireland and much further afield at this time.”
Sir Jeffery is Lagan Valley MP and leads the DUP’s group at Westminster.
The party’s education minister Peter Weir said Mr Donaldson had endured a long illness.
I am very sorry to hear of the death after a long illness of Jim Donaldson. father of Sir Jeffrey. A family death is incredibly difficult at any time, but even more so at the moment. My thoughts and prayers are with the Donaldson family.— Peter Weir (@peterweirmla) April 22, 2020
“A family death is incredibly difficult at any time, but even more so at the moment.”
Jim Donaldson had been a member of the Ulster Unionists and stood for election for the party in 2003.
Sir Jeffery and Mrs Foster joined the DUP later that year in a dispute with the UUP over the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Sir Jeffrey’s father also left the Ulster Unionists.
UUP chairman Danny Kennedy said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with them all at this sad and difficult time.”
Lagan Valley Assembly member and UUP Assembly chief whip Robbie Butler also sent his condolences.
“I know that the whole of Lagan Valley is thinking of them and hope that this will be of some comfort and strength both now and in the days ahead.”