Harold Long, 72, who was elected as a Social Credit MLA in 1986 and again as a Liberal MLA in 2001, was the pilot and only occupant of a DHC-2 Beaver float plane found overturned northeast of Campbell River, in Bute Inlet on Tuesday afternoon.
His body was recovered later in the day.
"Shock, grief, shock, grief, yeah, I've shed a few tears today that's for sure," said Dave Formosa, the 55-year-old mayor of Powell River, B.C., and a long-time friend of Long. "He was a good man. He was a great guy."
Formosa learned of the death from a friend in phone call Wednesday.
Long had a "heart of gold," and performed anonymous acts of goodwill, like paying for an airplane ticket for someone who didn't have the money, or filling up a tank with heating oil for a family that had none, said Formosa.
"He would do it quietly and happily when he could," said Formosa. "I know that for a fact."
Born in Powell River in 1941, Long had four children and was the operator of a transportation business, according to the Canadian Parliamentary Guide.
After serving as an MLA for the Social Credit party between 1986 and 1991, he was elected to Powell River's municipal council in 1992 and was a member of the mayor's task force from 1997 to 1999.
After his re-election to the legislature in 2001, Long served as the deputy whip for the Liberal government's caucus, was the deputy chair of the committee of the whole and was a member of the government caucus committee on government operations.
His unexpected death drew condolences from Premier Christy Clark and New Democratic Party Leader Adrian Dix.
"He embraced life with a great spirit," said Clark in a statement. "There were never any strangers when Harold was around. He treated everyone exactly the same — like a friend.
"Harold's family can be immensely proud of all his contributions and his generous nature, both of which touched so many. My thoughts and prayers are with them."
She said she will never forget his wise counsel and belief in giving back in ways big and small.
Dix expressed his sympathies, as well.
"It's a tragic loss, I know for the family, for his community and for British Columbia, and we wish his family all the best in what must be a terrible time," said the NDP leader.
Formosa said when he was working as a young, independent truck driver he met Long who was then the manager and president of City Transfer, a Powell River transportation company.
When he sold out of the trucking business, he got to know Long even better and looked up to him as an independent businessman, a mentor and somebody he could ask questions of or talk about issues or problems.
But he really got to know Long when he was president of the local BC Liberal riding association before the 2001 election and was trying to convince his mentor to return to politics.
"He denied me two or three times, and then finally, I bugged him enough, and I think I gave him the support and comfort that I thought he could win, and help him win, and (he) finally decided, OK, he'd give it a shot and he'd run again."
Long won easily, securing more than 42 per cent of the vote and beating the NDP's Gordon Wilson, the former Liberal leader, and the Green Party's Adriane Carr, by almost 3,600 votes each.
Whether he was serving as a politician or working at his business, Long also loved flying his Beaver float plane, said Formosa.
"He was almost like a bird," said Formosa, who added Long had several aircraft over his life. "He was always in the sky. You'd see his plane flying over Powell River numerous times, many times in a month or in a week. He was always in the air."
Formosa said Long also brought MLAs, premiers, member of Parliament, ministers to Powell River and the Sunshine Coast and promoted the area.
"Harold was a well respected person and he represented his community well," he said, noting the tragedy is the talk of the community and many people are saddened.
The BC Coroners Service, the Transportation Safety Board and the RCMP continue to investigate the tragedy.
By Keven Drews in Vancouver