US Representative Aston Donald McEachin, a Democrat from Virginia, died on Monday just weeks after winning reelection to Congress, his office said in a statement late Monday night. He was 61 years old.
“We are all devastated at the passing of our boss and friend, Congressman Donald McEachin,” Tara Rountree, his chief of staff, said in the statement. “Valiantly, for years now, we have watched him fight and triumph over the secondary effects of his colorectal cancer from 2013. Tonight, he lost that battle, and the people of Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District lost a hero who always, always fought for them and put them first.”
According to Rountree, McEachin’s office will remain open to continue serving the district’s constituents.
A minister and lawyer born in Germany as an Army brat, McEachin served twice in the Virginia House of Delegates, from 1996 to 2002 and 2006 to 2008. In 2001, he was the Democratic nominee for state attorney general–the first-ever African American to be nominated for that position. He was also the third African American to represent Virginia in the U.S. House. During his time in office, McEachin was known as an “impassioned” champion for environmental justice, with a particular focus on climate change’s uneven impact on disadvantaged or minority communities. He helped co-found the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force and served as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Natural Resources Committee, and Select Committee on Climate Crisis.
Though McEachin’s battle with colorectal cancer had been known for years–he’d made it a point to be vocal about his health struggles–his death has come as a shock to many. Just two weeks ago, at a packed “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” viewing party, McEachin stressed to the crowd “the importance of early detection” and urged regular exams, according to WTVR. “Don’t fool around. Don’t go through my journey,” McEachin said. “Go to the doctor.”
“Hearing the news of his death sent a shock of pain through me tonight,” Tweeted Virginia state senator L. Louie Lucas (D-Portsmouth), one of the many who took to social media to mourn McEachin and celebrate his contributions.
A special election to replace McEachin will be called at a later date chosen by VA Gov. Glenn Youngkin.