'Your courage, warmth and strength were a huge inspiration' - tributes pour in for Helen Kelly

New Zealanders across the country have paid their respects to inspirational trade unionist Helen Kelly, who has died after a brave battle with lung cancer. 

Ms Kelly, aged 52, had to give up the Council of Trade Unions' top job after she was diagnosed with lung cancer last year. 

The inspirational trade unionist Helen Kelly has died after battling cancer. Source: Breakfast

But the battle was far from over, as she pushed to legalise medical marijuana, and continued to fight for those killed at Pike River.

Tributes are pouring out on social media, many paying respect to Ms Kelly's fighting spirit and sending condolences to her husband Steve and son Dylan.

Politicians in particular have been quick to pay tribute, including Prime Minister John Key, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and Labour Party leader Andrew Little. 

The long serving Labour MP pays tribute to Helen Kelly, who has died after a battle with cancer. Source: Breakfast

"Saddened to hear about the passing of Helen Kelly, a strong advocate for workers’ rights. My thoughts are with her family and friends,' Mr Key wrote on Twitter. 

"Helen Kelly was an extraordinary woman who was strong, courageous and determined. My thoughts are with her loved ones," wrote Mr Goff.

Mr Little called Kelly a "fighter".

"Her tireless campaigning and advocacy made a real difference and her commitment to her cause saw her championing the need for safer working conditions for those in the forestry industry, shining a light on an industry that has for too long neglected the people who work in it," he said in a statement. 

"To the very end of her life, she was an example of extraordinary dedication and tenacity."

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark says she is "deeply saddened" by the news, while Green MP Mojo Mathers thanked Kelly for "all that you did for others".

"Your courage, warmth and strength were a huge inspiration for me," Ms Mathers posted on Twitter.

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran said while Ms Kelly's passing had been imminent, it is still "the worst news". 

"The Labour movement salutes you Helen."

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester wrote on Twitter that Kelly "fought for others" to ensure their voice was heard. 

"Helen Kelly was an incredible New Zealander... Arohanui Steve & Helen's loved ones."

Politician and fellow trade unionist Laila Harre labelled Kelly a "mother of the movement".

"Helen Kelly has passed but there are many more who will have full lives because of her work," Ms Harre wrote on Twitter. 

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