PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Congressman Donald McEachin has died at age 61 after a long battle with cancer.
His chief of staff, Tara Rountree, announced his death Monday night in a statement, saying “valiantly, for years now, we have watched him fight and triumph over the secondary effects of his colorectal cancer from 2013 … the people of Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District lost a hero who always, always fought for them and put them first.”
McEachin, a Democrat, is survived by his wife Colette and their three children.
He was first elected to represent the strongly Democratic leaning 4th District in 2016 and had just won reelection for a fourth term this November. He’d become known in Congress for his work on environmental and social justice initiatives, and bringing people together.
The ordained minister previously served for years in the Virginia General Assembly, starting back in 1996 in the Virginia House of Delegates before nearly a decade in the Virginia Senate.
In Congress, he was serving on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and the House Committee on Natural Resources, in addition to numerous caucuses, such as the LGBT Equality Caucus, Black Maternal Health Caucus and Rare Disease Congressional Caucus.
McEachin was the first Black candidate from a major party to run for Virginia attorney general (the only election he ever lost), and was just the third Black person ever elected to Congress from Virginia.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin called McEachin “a valiant fighter until the end” noting his admirable service to the Commonwealth.
“[McEachin] worked tirelessly to improve the lives of his constituents & Americans. Suzanne & I are thinking of his family, friends, & community during this difficult time.”
Gov. Youngkin ordered flags be flown at half-staff on all state and local buildings in McEachin’s memory, until sunset on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022.
Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, one of the two other Black members of Congress from Virginia, released a statement on his friend’s death, saying in part, “Donald was a relentless champion for all Virginians and our Commonwealth. He was the son of an Army veteran and a public-school teacher and grew up in the area that he would go on to represent in the Virginia General Assembly and the United States Congress … Donald was a thoughtful and principled legislator and respected by people on both sides of the aisle … Donald was resolute in pushing Virginia to lead the way in climate policy. He was also one of Congress’s strongest champions for environmental justice, fighting to ensure that our most vulnerable communities have access to clean air and water. The Commonwealth and our nation have lost one of its most dedicated public servants and fiercest advocates for justice and equality.”
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott was set to open a moment of silence on the House floor to remember Rep. McEachin on Tuesday.
State Sen. Lionell Spruill says one of McEachin’s greatest qualities was representing everyone regardless of color.
“When we were putting together bills, he made sure we were putting together bills for the community. He didn’t just look out for Blacks when he put a bill in, it was for everybody.”
Sprull observed McEachin, watching him speak, convincing people to his side.
“He could get on the floor, and make a speech on the floor that would convince the other side, and then to get enough votes to get the bill passed. He was famous for that.”
The two often joked around. In his early years, Spruill could not hear, so he has beads he holds in his hand that calm him. That in turn slows his speech so he isn’t stuttering.
“So I have these beads, but sometimes I don’t have them, and I speak too quickly,” Spruill said. “One time that happened and Donald said Spruill grab your beads, shut up and sit down,” he laughed, remembering how his friend was joking with him.
“Everybody knew he was a Christian and people would watch what they say around him,” Spruill said. “Some of us did, and some of us did not,” Spruill laughed, pointing at himself.
State Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), who served for more than 20 years in the General Assembly with McEachin, said, “Hearing the news of his death sent a shock of pain through me tonight. His leadership in the Congress was felt throughout the Trump Presidency as he held him accountable and then helped Joe Biden pass his agenda through the past two years. We will miss him terribly.”
His Democratic ticket mates Mark Warner, who was elected governor, and Tim Kaine, who was elected lieutenant governor, now both serve as U.S. senators. They both remembered their old friend.
“Up until the very end, Don was a fighter. Even though he battled cancer and faced other trials in recent years, he never lost his focus on social and environmental justice,” Warner said. “Tonight, Virginia has lost a great leader and I have lost a great friend.”
Kaine called McEachin a “gentle giant.”
“[He was] a compassionate champion for underdogs, a climate warrior, a Christian example, an understanding dad, a proud husband, a loyal brother.”
Rountree said McEachin’s office will remain open until another representative is elected. A special election to fill McEachin’s seat will be scheduled by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
A funeral will be held to honor McEachin Dec. 7 at 11 a.m. at St. Paul’s Baptist Church, located at 4247 Creighton Road in Richmond. The funeral will be closed to the media.
McEachin’s family has also asked in lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Virginia Union University’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology where McEachin received his masters.