61-year-old Virginia congressman Donald McEachin dies

This past Monday, the office of U.S. Representative A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) announced his passing. He had just been reelected to Congress a few weeks prior. He was 61.

Since 2017, McEachin has been the representative for Virginia’s 4th District, which includes the city of Richmond and extends north to the North Carolina border.

Before that, he spent a total of fourteen years in public office as a state senator and delegate.

McEachin’s chief of staff, Tara Rountree, expressed the staff’s shock and grief over the loss of their “boss and friend” in a statement released late Monday.

Despite the long-term implications of his colon cancer diagnosis in 2013, he has fought bravely and ultimately prevailed.

The residents of Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District have lost a champion who has relentlessly advocated on their behalf and who has consistently prioritized their needs because of his defeat tonight.

McEachin is a preacher and lawyer who ran as the Democratic nominee for attorney general of Virginia in 2001, but lost to Jerry Kilgore, a Republican.

Democrat L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth recalls “seeing him make history as the first-ever African American nominee” for the job.

To represent Virginia in Congress, he was only the third African-American to do so.

McEachin’s death came as a shock to many, despite the fact that his health problems had been public knowledge for quite some time.

As Lucas said on Twitter, “hearing the news of his passing sent a shock of sadness through me tonight.”

McEachin has gone on record about his cancer struggle, most recently around two weeks ago.

WTVR reported that at a screening party for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” held in a packed movie theatre, McEachin emphasized “the importance of early diagnosis” by advocating regular checkups.

Just stop messing around. McEachin advised, “Don’t make the same mistakes I did.” Get yourself checked out.

McEachin lost a lot of weight in 2018 due to side effects from cancer treatment and all the miles he walked around the Capitol every week.

A fistula, which the doctor described as “an improper connection between the bladder and colon,” led to two operations the following year. As well he had a blood clot that year, and had to be hospitalized.

McEachin informed the Times-Dispatch in 2020 that he had overcome the health issues that had forced him to lose 60 pounds from his 5-foot-11 frame.

“God brings you to stuff, and then he gets you through stuff,” he told the press back then.

A biography of the newly elected representative published in the Washington Post in 2016 called him a “Star Trek aficionado” who is “at once silly and cerebral.”

McEachin, a child of American servicemen born in Germany, attended American University for his undergraduate studies and then the University of Virginia School of Law for his graduate studies.

Colette McEachin, his wife, works as the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney. They raised three children to adulthood.

This year and again in 2020, McEachin’s opponent was Republican Minister Leon Benjamin.

In this election, the Democrat received approximately 65% of the vote and came out on top.

Three weeks ago, McEachin was celebrating his victory in Congress, and he was accompanied by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Kaine said of his brother in a statement released through email from his office, “He was a gentle giant, a compassionate fighter for underdogs, a climate warrior, a Christian example, an understanding dad, a proud spouse, a devoted brother.”

McEachin was a passionate advocate for environmental justice and legislation to alleviate climate change in Congress. He paid particular attention to the disproportionate impact that climate change had on low-income and minority communities.

To advance these goals, McEachin has served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Natural Resources Committee, and the Select Committee on Climate Crisis.

He also battled to protect historic land and natural beauty, such as the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia.

McEachin was “a relentless champion for Virginia families and a force for economic opportunity and environmental justice,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement grieving McEachin’s passing.

Pelosi praised him as “a recognized voice on the Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources Committees” for his work to reduce costs, increase broadband access, and safeguard families from gun violence.

According to the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, “his many contributions to our committee helped set the necessary framework for our climate action over the previous two years, especially the important advances toward environmental justice.”

Rountree said the congressional office will remain open and will continue to serve McEachin’s constituents until a new representative is elected.

Governor Glenn Youngkin will set a date for a special election to replace him (R). Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), who represents a portion of Northern Virginia, tweeted,

“Heartbroken to learn of Don McEachin’s demise.” “A worthy companion, spouse, and parent. One who cares about the planet, defends the rights of minorities, serves his country with integrity, and carries weight in society.

One could not ask for a finer ally. He was a wonderful friend, and I will miss him terribly. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), who served with McEachin in the state Senate, called

McEachin a dear friend and mentor and “one hell of a legislator and leader,” whose “trusted counsel and ever calming presence helped me learn the ropes of public service in Richmond.” She said that without him, she never would have made it to the halls of Congress.

Wexton said, “When I visited him on Capitol Hill in 2017 and was debating whether or not to seek for reelection, he gave me a parting note bearing the words of Thomas Paine: ‘These are the times that try men’s souls.

The “summer soldier” and the “sunshine patriot” will both be reluctant to serve their country during this time of difficulty. Still, anyone who stays true to their country in this time of need will be rewarded with the gratitude of all citizens.

To hear Donald tell it, neither he nor I am “sunshine patriots.” Because of his encouragement and faith in me, I will always be grateful to him.

I will miss my friend’s insight and support very much. According to a statement released by the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus, McEachin’s passing is “a great loss to our Commonwealth.”

A quote from the obituary said, “Congressman McEachin was a clever, sensitive human being.” Whether he was working on civil rights, the environment, energy, or voting rights, his love for humanity was always front and center.

His voice, and his very presence, will be sorely missed.

Source: Washington Post

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