Mourners from across the political spectrum gathered in Belfast on Saturday for the funeral service of DUP MLA Christopher Stalford.
The DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, alongside party MPs and MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly), were among the congregation at Ravenhill Presbyterian Church in south Belfast.
Stalford, 39, who was a father of four, died suddenly last weekend. He was the principal deputy speaker at the Northern Ireland assembly and held a seat in South Belfast.
The Ulster Unionist party leader Doug Beattie and Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister attended the funeral service.
Representatives from Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Alliance party and the Green party were also in attendance and a crowd had gathered outside the church to pay their respects.
The Rev Marty Gray told mourners: “Today we grieve for the years ahead he will not see, and for the ambitions, he will not get to fulfil.”
The service heard of Stalford’s love for his family and his south Belfast community.
Gray recalled how the politician was “proud of his working-class upbringing”.
“When he went canvassing for the south Belfast seat he made sure everyone knew where he went to school so they could be sure he was a south Belfast boy through and through,” he said.
Mourners also heard of Stalford’s devotion to his wife, Laura, and his family.
“Christopher and Laura had known each other since they were young children,” Gray told the congregation. “From the age of 16, Laura and Christopher were inseparable. He was her best friend and she was his and they have been that way ever since.”
The couple, he added, were married by former DUP leader Ian Paisley, who had left a meeting with Tony Blair early to conduct the service for the “special couple”.
North Belfast DUP assembly member (MLA) William Humphrey, who also spoke at the funeral, said Stalford’s “outstanding young life has been taken far too soon”.
He paid tribute to the “strong, articulate” politician, who was “unique” and “a true character with a huge intellect, an acerbic wit with an infectious laugh”.
In a statement released before the funeral, Laura Stalford said her children will remember their father as the “best dad in the world”.
The death of Stalford caused shock waves across politics, with the prime minister, Boris Johnson, among those who paid tribute.
Donaldson said earlier that his party was devastated by the loss of “our dear friend and much-loved colleague”.
Stalford was elected to Stormont in 2016 having previously served on Belfast city council, where he was deputy mayor and high sheriff of the city.