Former Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service Sir Jeremy Heywood has died from cancer aged 56, Downing Street has said.
Prime Minister Theresa May said Sir Jeremy “worked tirelessly to serve our country” and said his death was “a huge loss to British public life”.
Sir Jeremy Heywood was diagnosed last summer but continued to work while receiving treatment for the disease.
He stepped aside in June and last month announced his resignation after 35 years in government to focus on “recovery from ill health”.
His wife Suzanne said the 56-year-old had passed away this morning.
She paid tribute to a “wonderful father” who “crammed a huge amount into his 56 years”.
She said: “He saw it as a huge privilege to work so closely with four prime ministers and two chancellors and was unwavering in his efforts to help each of them reach their goals.
“He was always conscious of the need for civil servants to see the world through ministers’ eyes while at the same time respecting the boundaries between politicians and civil servants.
“Away from his work, he inspired admiration, respect and affection in his many and diverse group of friends and returned it to them.
“Jeremy could light up any room or conversation and loved hosting a good party.”
Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Yvette Cooper was visibly moved as she was told the news live on Sky.
She said: “Its deeply sad.
“Jeremy I think was a wonderful public servant and he did a huge amount to hold governments together at very difficult times. “
Speaking through tears, Ms Cooper, who worked with Sir Jeremy, said: “I obviously knew him very well personally and all thoughts are with his family.
“People will not be aware of quite how many remarkable things he did to solve crises to deal with some of the most difficult problems and as a very honourable public servant to hold people together and to make sure that the government didn’t do frankly stupid things on many occasions and to make sure that there were solutions.
“Whatever your politics his contribution to public life was immense and I think we all owe him a debt of gratitude.”
In a statement, Prime Minister Theresa May said Sir Jeremy “worked tirelessly to serve our country” and said his death was “a huge loss to British public life”.
“This is extremely sad news and all of my thoughts are with Jeremy’s family and friends.
“The many retirement tributes paid to Jeremy from across the political spectrum in recent weeks demonstrated his extraordinary talent supporting and advising Prime Ministers and Ministers, and leading the Civil Service with distinction.
“He worked tirelessly to serve our country in the finest traditions of the Civil Service and he is a huge loss to British public life.
“I will always be grateful for the support which he gave me personally and will remember his achievements across his career as we regret that he did not have the chance to offer his talents for longer in retirement.
“Jeremy will be sorely missed and I send my deepest condolences to Suzanne and the children and to all his family and many friends.”
Number 10 confirmed there will be a private family funeral in the coming days and then a memorial service next year.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown said: “The country has lost a leader of exceptional ability, unquestioned integrity and – as we saw in the way he fought his illness – remarkable courage.
“Jeremy Heywood was the most dynamic civil servant of his generation, a leader who inspired confidence, whose expertise was recognised by all and whose impartiality was never in doubt.
“Jeremy was a unique civil servant who may not always have agreed with proposals from ministers but always had a positive and often better alternative to offer.
“He will be sorely missed for the remarkable contribution he has made to the government of Britain.”
Tony Blair said Sir Jeremy had been “a quite outstanding public servant and someone I came to have enormous respect for both as a professional and as a person”.
The former Labour leader said: “He worked with more prime ministers and at a more senior level than any civil servant in recent memory and served us all with integrity, distinction and infinite commitment.
“He was dedicated, smart and with a rare small ‘p’ political skill which made him such a formidable Whitehall operator.
“The British Civil Service and all of us who worked with him will miss him deeply. My thoughts and prayers go out to Suzanne and all his family.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Jeremy Heywood was an impressive and dedicated public servant. My thoughts are with his family, loved ones and colleagues at this sad time.”
Sir Mark Sedwill, Lord Heywood’s successor as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, said: “Jeremy made an immense contribution to public life, serving four Prime Ministers with distinction.
“He joined the Civil Service in 1983, advising and supporting governments through some of the most challenging episodes of the last 30 years.
“Jeremy was the exemplary public servant.
“We will miss him more than we can say, and will be the poorer without his advice, leadership and extraordinary insight.
“He set the highest standards and challenged us to meet them.
“Jeremy was always looking to move difficult problems forward, restlessly confident to deliver a better way.
“He was a champion of innovation and embraced change while consolidating and protecting the best of history.
“He promoted a diverse and inclusive Civil Service, fit to meet the digital, commercial and policy challenges of the future.
“Jeremy also considered it a privilege to lead the hundreds of thousands of civil servants up and down the country, and across the world, who work day after day to make people’s lives better.
“We offer our condolences and best wishes to Jeremy’s wife Suzanne, his three children, the rest of his family and their friends.”
Former international development secretary Priti Patel said on Twitter: “Saddened to hear that Sir Jeremy Heywood has passed away.
“It was a tremendous privilege to work with him in Government.
“He was well respected as Cabinet Secretary & head of the Civil Service.
“He served our Country with great professionalism & he was a dedicated public servant.”
Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said on Twitter: “Jeremy Heywood was a great civil servant.
“He put his intellect, professionalism & charm at the service of Ministers of all parties & was never afraid to give honest even if unwelcome advice.
“Thoughts, prayers & heartfelt sympathy to his family.”
Tory chief whip Julian Smith added that he had been “truly inspiring to work with and his contribution to British public life has been huge. Such a loss.”