Warm political tributes have been paid to former Ulster Unionist government minister Sam Foster, who died yesterday, aged 82, after suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
The genial Fermanagh man has been described as “a guiding mentor” for Ulster Unionism in the Lakeland county and, in civic, community and government spheres, he made his considerable influence and presence felt over a period of four decades.
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said he was proud to have known Mr Foster, whom he described as a “huge figure in Fermanagh unionism”.
“It is a mark of Sam that he was able to gain the respect of political friend and foe alike. Sam never held personal grudges and sought to find agreement rather than create strife. He rose to high office, but never forgot his roots and always remained at heart a Fermanagh man,” said Mr Nesbitt.
“Sam was living embodiment of a loyal Ulster Unionist who served his country and his party faithfully for many decades and was held in the highest of esteem by all.”
DUP MLA and minister Arlene Foster, whose husband was a nephew of Mr Foster, also paid a fulsome tribute.
“Sammy Foster was a very important politician in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and, indeed, in Northern Ireland, but for my husband, myself and my children he was foremost a very dear uncle.
“It is well known that Sammy and I didn’t always agree on the direction of unionism post the Belfast Agreement, but we did, especially in later years, realise the importance of family.
“I respected and admired Sammy’s political style – his straight-talking and ability to speak out on issues he felt strongly about. He will be missed across society, especially in the loyal orders, but most keenly by his beloved wife Dorothy, his daughter Helen, sons Mervyn and David and their respective families.
“I know, however, they will take great comfort from his deep faith and abiding trust in God.”
DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson said: “I knew Sam Foster for many years and whilst we did not always agree on all aspects of politics I respected his strong commitment to unionism and particularly his dedication to the people of Co Fermanagh.
“He was always courteous in his dealings with others and he won a great deal of respect from right across the political spectrum.”
Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey said Sam Foster had confronted illness with great dignity and fortitude. “The one word that sums Sam up is loyalty. Fermanagh has lost a great unionist today.”
Another former party leader and fellow Fermanagh man, Tom Elliott, said Mr Foster had been a “long-standing, faithful and loyal member” of the party.
UUP Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said: “Sam Foster was a loyal Ulsterman and dedicated party stalwart. He always put his country first and demonstrated immense loyalty to family, friends, colleagues and party.”
UUP MEP Jim Nicholson also mourned the death of a close political colleague, stating Mr Foster was “a principled man of the highest integrity”.
Fermanagh-born DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds expressed his sympathy. He said: “Sam gave a lifetime of public service, whether in the security forces, or in politics.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said: “As a most notable figure in local politics, Fermanagh will be the poorer for his passing.”