“We are all devastated by the passing of our patron and friend, Congressman Donald McEachin,” McEachin’s chief of staff Tara Rountree said in a statement late Monday night. “Valiantly, for years now we have seen him fight and triumph over the side effects of his 2013 colorectal cancer. Tonight he lost that battle, and the people of Virginia’s fourth congressional district lost a hero. who always, always fought for them. and place them first.
A minister and lawyer, McEachin was the Democratic candidate for state attorney general in 2001, losing to Republican Jerry Kilgore. State Senator L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) recalled “watching him go down in history as the first-ever African-American candidate” for the position. He was only the third African American to represent Virginia in the United States House.
Although McEachin’s health issues have been known for years, his death still surprised many.
“Hearing the news of his death sent me a shock of pain tonight,” Lucas tweeted.
McEachin has publicly discussed his battle with cancer, and did so just two weeks ago. In a crowded movie theater hosting a “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” viewing party, McEachin stressed to the crowd “the importance of early detection,” urging regular reviews, as WTVR reported during the event. ” Do not joke. Don’t follow my background,” McEachin said. “To go to the doctor.”
In 2018, McEachin attributed dramatic weight loss to complications from his cancer treatment and the weekly walk around the Capitol. The following year he underwent two surgeries after developing a fistula, which his doctor described to the Richmond Times-Dispatch as “an abnormal connection between the bladder and the colon”. He was also hospitalized that year with a blood clot.
But in 2020, McEachin told The Times-Dispatch he was moving past the health issues that at one point caused him to lose 60 pounds from his 6-foot-5 frame.
“God makes you do stuff, then he puts you through stuff,” he told the newspaper at the time.
In 2016, a Washington Post Profile described the newly elected congressman as a “Star Trek fanatic” who is “both goofy and cerebral”. A German-born army brat, McEachin studied political science at American University before earning his law degree at the University of Virginia. His wife, Colette McEachin, is the Commonwealth Solicitor for Richmond. They are parents of three adult children.
McEachin took on Republican Leon Benjamin, also a cabinet minister, this year and in 2020. The Democrat won this year with nearly 65% of the vote.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) joined McEachin three weeks ago to celebrate the congressman’s victory.
“He was a gentle giant, a compassionate champion for underdogs, a climate warrior, a Christian example, an understanding father, a proud husband, a faithful brother,” Kaine said in a statement emailed from his desk.
In Congress, McEachin was known as a passionate champion of environmental justice and climate change mitigation policies, with particular attention to its unequal impact on disadvantaged or minority communities.
In line with these priorities, McEachin had co-founded the United for Climate and Environmental Justice task force, while serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Natural Resources Committee and the Select Committee on Climate Crisis. He also fought for the preservation of historic lands and natural beauty, such as the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said in a statement mourning McEachin’s death that he was “a tireless champion for Virginia families and a force for economic opportunity and environmental justice.”
“A respected voice on energy, commerce and natural resources committees, he has advocated for lower costs, expanding broadband access and protecting families from gun violence,” said Pelosi. “His many contributions to our select committee on the climate crisis have helped lay the essential foundation for our climate action over the past two years, especially the important advances toward environmental justice.”
Rountree said the Congressional office will remain open and continue to serve McEachin voters until a new representative is elected. A special election for his replacement will be called on a date chosen by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R).
“Heartbroken to learn of the passing of Don McEachin,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), who represents part of Northern Virginia, tweeted. “A noble friend, husband and father. An environmentalist, a civil rights defender, a loyal public servant and a man of consequence. There was no better ally to have. 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 “trustworthy counsel and always soothing presence helped me learn the ropes of public service in Richmond.She said she wouldn’t be in Congress today without him.
“As I was considering making the decision to return in 2017 and was visiting him on Capitol Hill,” Wexton wrote in a statement, “he left me a farewell note with the words of Thomas Paine: “These are the times that try the souls of men. The summer soldier and the patriot of the sun will, in this crisis, withdraw from the service of their country; but whoever stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Donald insisted that he and I were not “sun patriots”. For his words of inspiration and confidence in me, I will be eternally grateful to him. I will greatly miss my friend’s wisdom and encouragement.
The Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus released a statement calling McEachin’s death a “giant loss to our Commonwealth.”
“Congressman McEachin was a brilliant, compassionate human being,” he said. “His love for humanity has always been at the forefront of his work, whether on civil rights, the environment, energy or voting rights. He is a voice that will surely be missed, as will his very presence.