Tributes from across the political spectrum have been paid to the former SDLP South Down MP Eddie McGrady, who died yesterday aged 78, writes Noel McAdam.
Mr McGrady, who was predeceased by his wife Patricia a decade ago after being married for 40 years, had been ill for some time and last weekend's SDLP conference was said to be only the second he had ever missed.
He famously burst on to the Westminster scene after defeating Ulster Unionist and former senior Conservative figure Enoch Powell – who had held the seat since 1974 – to win the South Down seat at the fourth attempt in 1987.
A founder member of the party, he had a reputation as a hard-working MP and in the House of Commons won his spurs as a champion against the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria.
First Minister Peter Robinson knew Mr McGrady for many years and said he was deeply saddened to hear of his passing.
"Eddie was absolutely committed to the people of South Down and represented them very ably at council, assembly and parliamentary level during his long career," the DUP leader said.
"Whilst coming from a different political tradition, his warmth and personality won him many friends and a great deal of respect from within the unionist community.
"On behalf of the DUP I would express my deepest sympathies to his family, friends and close colleagues who mourn his passing."
SDLP chief Alasdair McDonnell said: "Today the SDLP has lost one of its founding pillars. Co Down has lost a great champion and Ireland has lost a person of faith and integrity who enhanced public life in a political career that lasted almost half-a-century.
"As a founding member of the SDLP, Eddie helped to shape not only our party, but history, as he, along with John Hume, Seamus Mallon and others helped to define the politics of an era and build the peace of our lifetime."
Former SDLP leader and Nobel Laureate John Hume described Mr McGrady as "a man of deep faith, incredible fortitude and considerable courage".
"He brought a sharp political instinct to all his work, displaying both talent and tenacity throughout a distinguished career stretching 50 years in public service," he said.
"He will be rightfully remembered for his 1987 election victory over Enoch Powell, but we should not forget his unswerving devotion to peace and his substantial contribution towards the new beginning to policing."
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers described him as a "staunch advocate of constitutional politics and an instrumental figure in the negotiations that ultimately led to the Belfast Agreement in 1998".
She added: "He was widely regarded as a man of real decency and commitment to the public good, and he will be sadly missed across the political spectrum, although of course in particular by his colleagues in the SDLP."
Often affectionately known as 'steady Eddie', Mr McGrady was one of Northern Ireland's longest-serving MPs. He remained at Westminster until 2010 when he was replaced by then party leader Margaret Ritchie, who paid tribute to her mentor last night.
"Eddie was a great campaigner and he gave his and future generations the confidence that politics and campaigning can bring about change locally and regionally through his role in the peace process," she said.
When he announced he was standing down in 2010, Mr McGrady said: "I know if SDLP leaders had not been there to challenge the British Government, to act in the interests of the Irish people, nationalists and unionists, and to demand justice and equality for all, we would not have peace and no prospect of a better future."
A former chartered accountant, he sat on Downpatrick Urban Council in the 1960s and early 1970s, and then on Down District Council until 1989.