Guido Westerwelle, who served as Germany’s first openly gay foreign minister, died on Friday in Cologne aged 54.
His death was announced on Facebook by the Westerwelle Foundation, which said: “We mourn our leader Guido Westerwelle. He died on 18 March 2016 at Cologne’s University Hospital of complications relating to leukaemia treatment.”
Mr. Westerwelle was a former leader of the Free Democratic Party, which governed in a coalition with the Christian Democratic Union of Chancellor Angela Merkel until the party suffered a crushing defeat in the 2013 elections.
He was the highest-ranking openly gay person in the German government, having risen to the position of vice chancellor. As foreign minister from 2009 to 2013, he had the uncomfortable task of visiting countries where homosexuality is not accepted, or even legal.
During Westerwelle’s term, Germany participated in six-power talks with Iran, which shortly before he left office produced the interim deal that saw Tehran freeze or curb various nuclear activities in return for a limited easing of sanctions.
Westerwelle was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in June 2014. He had undergone chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant.
He made his last public appearances in autumn to promote his autobiography, Between Two Lives, in Berlin. In a four-hour interview with Spiegel magazine he talked about his life and his fear of dying.
Paying tribute to his predecessor, current German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier hailed Westerwelle as a ‘true patriot’.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel described Westerwelle as one of the best speakers the Bundestag lower house of parliament had ever heard.
“I found him to be a sensitive and thoughtful person. A man who kept his word when he gave it,” she said in Brussels.