David Ford has been a leader of the Alliance Party for 15 years, and a friend and mentor to me for over 40, back to the early days of the party.
His contribution to Alliance has been immense – as a volunteer, councillor, general secretary, MLA, party leader and justice minister.
During that time, Alliance has grown significantly in all respects and David was integral to that, leaving it as leader at the strongest point of influence in its history.
During his tenure, Alliance achieved a number of notable firsts – having its first MP elected in the guise of Naomi Long and being the home of Europe’s first Parliamentarian from the Chinese community in the shape of Anna Lo.
Alliance also attracted people from diverse backgrounds across Northern Ireland, including the first openly gay mayor in Andrew Muir.
David Ford is the longest serving leader in Alliance history and did a superb job as Northern Ireland’s first justice minister, a role he balanced with his party leader position, leaving behind a legacy that will live long in the process.
That time has taken in many incredible highs and some disappointing lows, but throughout it all, David held a firm and steady resolve to do his best for all in our community.
While many of our party were receiving death threats, having their homes attacked and offices destroyed, David demonstrated a resolve in the face of ongoing intimidation and violence, and showed a strong, passionate desire to press forward towards a truly shared future.
Alliance stands today as a successful party not least due to David Ford.
His desire to build a united community has not dimmed and nor will it, as he as a public representative and Alliance as a party will continue to express our core values of equality for all.
Like all political leaders, he will have detractors and those who think he should have done things differently but for me and many others, he will stand out as someone who did a good job in moving everyone in Northern Ireland forward.
That is why I am proud to call David Ford my friend and mentor.
• Stewart Dickson is an East Belfast MLA and Chief Whip of Alliance