First Minister Arlene Foster broke down as she paid tribute to former DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt who died aged 69 following a long illness.
Mr Spratt stepped down as an Assembly Member in 2015 following a lengthy and very public battle with bowel cancer.
The former Police Federation chairman had represented South Belfast since 2007.
Speaking at Thursday’s Covid-19 press conference, an emotional Mrs Foster passed on her condolences to Mr Spratt’s family.
“When devolution returned to Northern Ireland in 2007 after the St Andrew’s Agreement, I sat beside Jimmy in that now famous photograph in the long gallery when Dr Paisley sat down with the leadership of Sinn Fein for the first time,” she said.
“I mention that because Jimmy, like me, believed very much in building a shared future so he wanted everyone here to feel at home in Northern Ireland and he wanted to make devolution work.
“He never shied away from the challenge of trying to keep Northern Ireland moving in the right direction and I just want to acknowledge that today.
“I will miss him and his quiet determined support but it was comforting for me, and indeed for my DUP colleagues, that the comments from other ministers at today’s Executive meeting reflected Jimmy’s qualities and the contribution he made here to Northern Ireland.”
On his illness, which was diagnosed in 2011, Mr Spratt previously warned people are dying of "embarrassment" rather than coming forward for treatment.
A former police officer who became chair of the rank-and-file Police Federation for several years, Mr Spratt was elected to the former Castlereagh Borough Council in 2005before entering the Stormont Assembly two years later.
Before entering politics, he joined the RUC in 1972 where he remained for 30 years.
His son, Cllr Gareth Spratt represents the Balmoral DEA on Belfast City Council.
Among those paying tribute today were DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster who said Mr Spratt had dedicated much of his life to trying to move Northern Ireland forward.
Mrs Foster said: "I talked with Jimmy after his last consultation when the news was not good, and we recognised it may be one of our last conversations. Yet in the face of such news, Jimmy spoke so touchingly about the tough days ahead for his family rather than him. His focus was on Lynda (his wife) and the children.
"Jimmy believed in peace making. He believed in building a shared future so everyone who lived here could feel at home. He wanted to make devolution work. He recognised that to get there would involve heavy lifting and tough conversations, but he never shied away from the challenge. Indeed, even in our final conversation Jimmy was unstinting in his support and encouragement to keep Northern Ireland moving in the right direction.
"The Spratt family will be in our prayers as they mourn his passing."
Ulster Unionist Party chair, Danny Kennedy, who worked with Mr Spratt on many Assembly committees, added: “He was a dedicated public representative having had a long and successful career in poIicing beforehand. I liked and respected him and offer my sincere sympathy to his wife, sons and family circle at this sad and difficult time.”
I am sorry to hear of the death of Jimmy Spratt, who of course served South Belfast.— Paula Bradshaw MLA (@PaulaJaneB) March 4, 2021
My sincere condolences to Linda and his family and friends. I hope they draw some comfort from the admirable dignity with which he handled his illness.
Education Minister Peter Weir tweeted: "Very sorry to hear of the passing of Jimmy Spratt. Jimmy gave great service to the people of Northern Ireland as a police officer and then a public rep. I worked alongside Jimmy in the Assembly, Police Board, NILGA and SEELB. Thoughts and prayers with Lynda and the family."
The Chief Constable Simon Byrne wrote: "My sincere condolences to the family of the late Jimmy Spratt RIP. Jimmy made a considerable and important contribution to policing in Northern Ireland as a Police Officer, MLA, Chair of @PoliceFedforNI and member of @NIPolicingBoard."
Our Chair has recorded condolences on the passing of former Board Member Jimmy Spratt. He was a political rep on the Board for 4 years & as a former officer a passionate voice on policing issues, particularly around officer welfare. Thoughts are with his family & friends.— NI Policing Board (@NIPolicingBoard) March 4, 2021
A spokesperson for the Police Federation for Northern Ireland added: "Deeply saddened this morning to learn of the passing of our former Chairman. Jimmy was Chair of @PoliceFedforNI between 2001-2002 and our thoughts and prayers are with Linda and his entire family circle. "
Last November he accused his ex-DUP colleague Sammy Wilson of "irresponsible" criticism of Dr Tom Black after the senior medic called for tougher coronavirus restrictions.
The GP, chairman of the BMA in Northern Ireland, had suggested in a BBC interview that reopening the hospitality industry here would be "an act of careless vandalism".
But East Antrim MP Mr Wilson said of Executive ministers: "I hope that they ignore him and I hope they ignore his one-sided view of what the needs of society are and take a balanced approach."
Hitting back at the comments, Mr Spratt said: "I think it's irresponsible to criticise somebody at the coal face of the medical profession and the medical profession in general, with the warnings they've been giving us."