The nation paused yesterday afternoon just before 3 pm as news emerged of the passing of Gay Byrne.

It is hard to explain to anyone under the age of 40 just why the news was greeted with such sadness and reflection.

In a world where media has become more disposable, where presenters come and go and change identity to fit whatever a programme requires, the idea of Gay Byrne is hard to imagine.

Indeed, the Ireland which he guided by way of radio and TV moments over a span of four decades from the 1960s through to the dawn of a new Millenium is hard to imagine itself given how far we have travelled.

It was the voice, the look, the catchphrases, the probing, the empathy, the occasional flintiness, the genuine curiosity.  It was all these things and it was the more singular focus of the world in which he operated.

He hosted conversations on the national airwaves about homosexuality and about condoms, both of which were illegal in the time of his dominance on television.  There is little doubt that the changing tide of global thinking would have made them acceptable but in Ireland, there is equally little to question in terms of the impact he had in hastening and easing the transition.

He has been kindly remembered since the news broke.  On TV, on radio, in print and online.  There is not a bad word to be spoken of him and when you consider some of the media personalities of his generation and what we have discovered about them down the years, that is no mean feat in itself.

He probably would have brushed off much of the praise as being too much credit for something that was just what he did.  But it was the manner in which he did it, consistently, that made him such an iconic figure.

The influence he had across almost every layer of society will stand as his greatest legacy.  The young will perhaps scoff at that very idea but they were different times.

RTÉ will broadcast a special live edition of the Late Late Show tonight at 9 35 pm with Ryan Tubridy hosting a collection of memories from friends and colleagues.  It will be a special show, he was a very special man.

Gay Byrne RIP