Lord Mawhinney oversaw several significant changes in the Football League

Former football league chairman Brian Mawhinney passed away at the age of 79.

The Belfast-born conservative peer led the league, now known as the EFL, from 2003 for seven years.

Lord Mawhinney was awarded a lifetime membership in the organization in 2012.

"Everyone connected to the EFL is saddened by the loss of Lord Mawhinney, a highly respected and influential person in our recent past," said Rick Parry, chairman of the EFL.

He said Mawhinney has "a significant impact on the game".

In a statement, his family said that "beloved husband, father and grandfather and a friend of many" died Saturday after a long illness.

"His death ends a life dedicated to public service and rooted in an unshakeable Christian faith," the statement says.

The former Conservative Party leader joined the House of Lords in 2005 after resigning as an MP for North West Cambridgeshire.

He had a Commons career that lasted more than 25 years and served as Transport Secretary under Prime Minister John Major.

In football, he oversaw a league rebranding, the introduction of a fitness and fitness test for club owners and sanctions for clubs entering the administration.

"Lord Mawhinney received a lifetime membership in 2012 for the significant contribution he made to the League during his seven-year tenure, during which he made a number of important launches as part of a comprehensive governance reform program," said Parry.

He was also the driving force behind the Premier League's first solidarity agreement with the Premier League, the founding of the Football League Trust and a significant renaming to aid later commercial development.

"Club owners, their respective teams and EFL staff are well remembered for Lord Mawhinney's time in the league, and our collective thoughts are with his family and friends during this sad and difficult time."

Mawhinney was also Patron of Peterborough and the League One team paid their own tribute.

"Brian was a great ambassador for this football club, and his love and knowledge of the game has always been of great help to Peterborough United, a football club he loved," said General Manager Bob Symns.

Under the leadership of Mawhinney's Football League, Divisions One, Two and Three became 2004 Champions League, League One and League Two.

This was followed by a fitness and personal test for aspiring club directors – later also taken over by the Premier League.

Then in 2004-05, new rules were introduced introducing penalties and other sanctions for clubs entering the administration – a move that proved controversial for fans of some clubs and made Mawhinney a controversial figure for many.

The clubs also had to publish their expenses for the players' agents' fees, and the "double representation" – whereby the players' agents represent both a player and an association during a transfer – was banned.

Mawhinney, a committed Christian and former member of the General Synod, also oversaw the introduction of rules that oblige clubs to disclose the identity of their owners after difficult times for clubs such as Leeds United and Notts County.

He resigned from his position in 2010 when Greg Clarke – who now heads the Football Association – took over the position.

In his farewell letter, Mawhinney called for the relegation of clubs falling into the administration, and warned against a better control of the wages and fees of the players by the clubs.

In 2012, the League rewarded Mawhinney with a lifetime membership of the organization for his "exceptional contribution during a decade serving the world's original league football competition".