TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

Described by friends as humble and a "tender conscience," state Rep. Clay Ford, R-Gulf Breeze, has died of cancer at age 74.

Ford, who was chairman of the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee but had been absent from this year's legislative session because of the illness, died Monday night, according to a statement issued by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

"The consummate gentleman of the House, Clay Ford was a friend, a mentor and a tender conscience to all those who served with him,'' Weatherford said.

Weatherford and Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, pointed to Ford's humble nature, with the speaker saying that Ford had requested that "we not mourn him with ceremony and fanfare" and allow his family to mourn privately.

"Rep. Clay Ford had a long battle with cancer,'' said Patronis, who along with Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, paid tribute to Ford during an afternoon subcommittee meeting. "Today is a day that Clay would be very upset if we were grieving, just because there's never been a picture of humility more in this process I've ever crossed than Rep. Ford."

Ford, an attorney, took office after a February 2007 special election and was re-elected three times, mostly recently when he won a Republican primary in August 2012. An Arkansas native, Ford was a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1975 and 1976 and went on to become a member of the Gulf Breeze City Council from 1990 to 2007.

Gonzalez, a former member of the Hialeah City Council, said he first met Ford in 1998 through the Florida League of Cities. Ford served as president of the League of Cities in 2004 and 2005.

Ford had three children and nine grandchildren, according to a House bio. Gonzalez and Patronis described Ford as being devoted to his family and wife of more than 50 years, Carol.

"She would drive with him everywhere they went in their meetings in the state,'' Patronis said. "( Ford was) an incredibly private individual who would never ask for any assistance in accomplishing what was his job that he felt like he should be able to do himself."