First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she has been left “devastated” by the death of former SNP MSP Kay Ullrich.
Ms Ullrich was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, representing the West Scotland region, before stepping down in 2003.
Serving on the SNP front bench during her stint in parliament, Ms Ullrich is credited with bringing a young Nicola Sturgeon into the party.
Then 16 years old, the future first minister approached the former MSP to see if she could help in her 1987 general election campaign in Cunninghame South.
Ms Ullrich fought a number of elections before her eventual win in 1999, including an attempt in 1983 for Cunninghame South, as well as Motherwell South in 1992 and Monklands East in 1994.
On Twitter, the First Minister said she was “devastated” by the news.
“Kay was a dear friend & one of the most influential figures in my life. A lifelong advocate of independence, she was @theSNP member for 55 years and a respected former MSP.
“I’ll miss her so much. My love to Grady, Shelley, John & her beloved grandkids.”
Ms Ullrich served as a shadow health minister before moving to become chief whip under John Swinney when he was SNP leader in the early 2000s.
Mr Swinney, now the Deputy First Minister, also paid tribute to Ms Ullrich on Twitter.
He said: “Very poignant to be told by @NicolaSturgeon during @scotgov Cabinet of the death of Kay Ullrich, a stalwart of @theSNP and of independence.
“Kay was one of our vibrant heroes – a great friend and ally in good times and in tough times. Love and condolences to her family.”
Holyrood’s former presiding officer Tricia Marwick, who served between 2011 and 2016, also paid tribute to Ms Ullrich, saying “Scotland has lost one of our best”, adding: “Many of us have lost a great friend.”