TRIBUTES have been paid to the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s constituency agent, who died this week.

Lily Burton rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s most famous politicians while her husband, John, worked with Mr Blair in Sedgefield, County Durham.

The night before she died, at home in Trimdon Village, on Wednesday, following a three-year battle with cancer, Mr Blair visited her.

Having just returned to the UK from Israel, he chartered a plane to the region so he could say goodbye.

Mr Burton said: “He was heartbroken. When he was elected in Sedgefield, in 1983, he lived with us for a year-and-a-half and she thought of him as family.”

Mr Blair said: “Lily was one of the kindest and nicest human beings I have ever met. She was an incredibly good friend to me and I will miss her deeply.”

Mrs Burton was always by her husband’s side at high-profile political events and often busy in the background, working unpaid in Mr Blair’s constituency office.

When US President George Bush visited Sedgefield in 2003 she made him a cup of tea and sat next to him for lunch. Mr Burton said: “Poor Lily was shaking with the tea tray, Tony had to give her a hand. We got a letter from Bush thanking us for looking after him during the visit.”

Mrs Burton, 71, was a well-known pillar of the community in her own right.

Born Lily Darby in Deaf Hill, she left school at 14 to work in a clothes shop. She married Mr Burton in 1963 in St Mary Magdalene Church, Trimdon Village, and lived in Hertfordshire, then Stockton before settling in Trimdon Village.

She leaves two grown-up children, Caroline and Jonathan, and two grandchildren.

While raising her family and caring for her motherin- law, Mrs Burton resumed her studies then worked for the civil service for about ten years.

She was a long-serving Trimdon parish councillor and, in the late Sixties, regularly sang at The Red Lion’s folk club.

She had a strong Christian faith and was the organist at St Mary Magdalene Church for 30 years, in charge of flowers for 40 years and organised 25 flower festivals.

Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson said: “Lily she was such a lovely person. She’ll be sadly missed by her family and friends, of which she had many.”

Mr Burton said: “She was loved by so many. She was a caring, compassionate lady who loved the community and church. Above all she loved her family.”