When Jim Flaherty stepped down as federal finance minister last month, he and his wife, Ontario MPP Christine Elliott, seemed relieved.

Elliott told reporters that her husband wanted to spend more time with their triplet sons, who are in their early 20s, and consider his options in the private sector.

Less than a month later, Flaherty died suddenly in Ottawa.

His stunned colleagues on Parliament Hill remembered him as a hard-working, tenacious minister and MP. His friends spoke about his softer side, his dedication to his family and how that shaped his politics.

Flaherty and Elliott were a “wonderful couple…an example of what you want politicians to be,” said political commentator Tasha Kheiriddin, who lives in Flaherty’s Ontario riding of Whitby-Oshawa.

Kheiriddin told CTV News Channel Thursday that Flaherty was “beloved” in the riding.

He and Elliott, an Ontario MPP and the deputy leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, were down-to-earth people who opened up their home at Christmas and invited people to join the holiday cheer, she said.

Kheiriddin said Flaherty’s political legacy includes measures inspired by his family, such as the registered disability savings plan. One of Flaherty’s sons has a disability and it was important to him to ensure that other families could save for their children, Kheiriddin said.

“That was a very personal thing for him.”

Speaking to reporters Thursday at Queen’s Park, Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak said Flaherty was his “hero,” mentor and friend.

He said Flaherty’s sons, John, Galen and Quinn, should be “damned proud of what their father accomplished.

“This was an incredible man,” an emotional Hudak said, recalling a barbecue at his Niagara home where Flaherty stood on the porch and talked about his “love and passion for Ontario and Canada.”

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney told CTV’s Power Play  that Flaherty will be remembered as a “great man.”

“He had a good soul and a warm Irish heart,” he said. “He loved his family, he loved his wife, he loved his friends and he’s going to be deeply missed.”

Flaherty made it clear that he valued his friendships when he became emotional last November while speaking about embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Ford had just admitted to smoking crack cocaine while in office and Flaherty, a long-time friend of the Ford family, choked up when reporters asked him about it.

"At the end of the day, he has to make his own decision about what he ought to do,” Flaherty said. “Certainly his family is helping him and wishing him well. That's all I can say."

Mulroney said Flaherty discussed his future with him around the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays and seemed ready for a different life, away from federal politics.

“I think he was a happy man, a contented man, looking forward to a wonderful future, long future with his terrific wife and children.”

Mulroney said Flaherty was “very attractive” to business groups, law firms and universities, and could have had a “spectacular” life after his retirement from politics.

“He deserved it, richly deserved it, and it was snapped away from him.”