Singapore held its first Chingay Parade in February 1973 under the guidance of Old Guard minister Jek Yeun Thong.
Then the deputy chairman of the People's Association (PA), Mr Jek helped to raise the profile of cultural activities here, the PA said yesterday.
Mr Jek, 87, died at home on Sunday. A key member of the People's Action Party (PAP), he held various portfolios, including those of Minister for Labour and Minister for Culture.
Recounting his contributions in a Facebook post, the PA said the Chingay Parade has since grown to become a national celebration of multiracial harmony.
It said many community arts programmes which saw active mass participation were started during his tenure as deputy chairman.
PAP politicians past and present paid tribute to him yesterday following news of his death.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said Mr Jek, whom he met at national and PAP events, was "always very gracious".
He recounted greeting Mr Jek at the PAP's 60th anniversary event in Victoria Concert Hall in 2014.
"I noticed his shirt was damp. It was raining and he had got wet when he arrived. But he didn't say anything, and sat through the event. He said he didn't want to trouble anyone."
Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said he remembers founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew saying that Mr Jek was among early PAP members who fought fearlessly for the party during the "tumultuous, hectic and frantic years".
He added in his Facebook post: "As a backbencher in Parliament in his later years, he was concerned that the fruits of progress be shared by many, and often raised the issue of wealth distribution."
Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu said Mr Jek had "advocated an emerging Singaporean identity, especially through the arts and culture".
His contributions laid a strong foundation for the vibrant arts and culture scene here, she added.
Others who called Mr Jek's death a loss to the nation include Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.
Mr Jek was appointed high commissioner to the United Kingdom in 1977, and in 1978, ambassador to Denmark. Former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan, who was foreign minister in the 1980s, said: "(Mr Jek) was an astute and perceptive observer of political currents and undercurrents, and I found his reports useful to understand the UK."
Former MP Ho Kah Leong described Mr Jek as a Chinese gentleman who championed the Chinese language and culture. He recalled Mr Jek being among MPs who would converse in Mandarin, not English. "He was very friendly to people, very approachable. Never put on airs. Spoke to you gently."
• Additional reporting by Hariz Baharudin and Yasmine Yahya