Ian Paisley was a historic and controversial figure in Northern Ireland and throughout the U.K. For many years, he stood at the intersection of religion and politics in Northern Ireland as he led opposition to power sharing between his Protestant majority and the Catholic minority. Often flamboyant, he called the Pope “the Antichrist” and criticized Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair as “liars.”
But in 2007, at a crucial moment, he asserted the leadership of his party and his constituency to move Northern Ireland toward the power-sharing government that now provides democratic self-governance to the people of Northern Ireland. For that he will forever be remembered, in Northern Ireland and beyond.
On a personal level, while we had some policy differences, especially in my early years in Northern Ireland, Paisley and I enjoyed a cordial personal relationship, and I recall well the many meetings we had during the years that he served as First Minister. Ian Paisley was a big man who played a big role in solving the biggest problem in Northern Ireland.
Mitchell is the former U.S. Senator who helped craft the 1998 Good Friday Agreement
This appears in the September 29, 2014 issue of TIME.