The flag outside Saint John City Hall was at half-mast today as a tribute to Shirley Dysart, a long time former New Brunswick MLA and Cabinet Minister who died this week in Saint John.

Many have described Dysart as a trailblazer, both as a politician and as a woman.

“She was very popular and she was very easy to talk to, and people related to her. She was so nice to everybody,” says Saint John Deputy Mayor Shirley McAlary.

Dysart was a five-time MLA, first elected in 1974. She served in Frank McKenna’s Cabinet and is considered the architect of New Brunswick’s kindergarten program.

During her time in office, Dysart championed many community projects, including the reconstruction of the Imperial Theatre.

“If you look at some of the community things that she was involved in, she was very conneted to her community. She understood volunteerism,” says PC MLA Trevor Holder.

Dysart went on to become the first female to occupy the speaker’s chair in the N.B. Legislature.

Dysart will always be associated with a number of firsts in New Brunswick. As a long time educator, she was the perfect fit for Frank McKenna’s education minister and the first woman to hold that portfolio in the province.

In a statement today, former N.B. Premier Frank McKenna said:

“She was a highly respected role model for women and a passionate educator. She is the architect of kindergarten in New Brunswick. She had integrity and class and was loved by all.”

Former cabinet colleagues echoed McKenna’s sentiments.

“When Shirley entered a room she had a certain dignity and presence about her that commanded attention. I think that was an attribute one might really admire,” says Jane Barry, a former Liberal Cabinet Minister.

Shirley Dysart passed away after a period of failing health. She was 88-years-old.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Mike Cameron.