Virginia State Senator Ben Chafin Dies From COVID-19 Complications

In this Friday, Feb. 28, 2020 file photo, Virginia State Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell, listens to debate on the floor of the Senate during the session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. Virginia Sen. Ben Chafin has died due to coronavirus, Senate Republicans said Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. Chafin represented southwest Virginia and was from Russell County. A Republican, he was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2013 and then moved to the state Senate in 2014. He was 60. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

By Brian Carlton

January 1, 2021

Ben Chafin remembered as a kind man who worked for Southwest Virginia.

RICHMOND-State lawmakers and friends paid tribute to Ben Chafin Friday night. They remembered the Virginia state senator as a good man who loved his family and enjoyed helping the people of his district. Chafin passed away Friday after a two week hospital stay, with his office staff confirming he died due to complications from COVID-19. 

“With the passing of Senator Ben Chafin, Southwest Virginia has lost a strong advocate—and we have all lost a good man,” said Governor Ralph Northam in a statement to media. “I knew Ben as a lawmaker, attorney, a banker and a farmer raising beef cattle in Moccasin Valley, working the land just as generations of his family had done before him. He loved the outdoors and he loved serving people even more.” 

Northam also pointed to Chafin’s push to bring jobs to Southwest Virginia. He was one of several lawmakers that convinced Amazon to visit the region in 2019. The company ended up choosing Northern Virginia as the site for its second headquarters, but that visit marked the first time the southwest region of the state had been considered for such a project. More than that, Chafin was known for breaking with his party in 2018 to help expand Medicaid. 

Chafin, Jill Vogel, Emmet Hanger and Frank Wagner joined 19 Democrats to approve a budget in May 2018 that included Medicaid expansion. Chafin faced criticism from fellow Republicans for the decision, but said at the time it was the right thing to do. Speaking on Friday, Northam remembered his longtime colleague’s work. 

“I will always be grateful for his courageous vote to expand health care for people who need it,” Northam said. 

COVID-19 Problems Grow

The 60-year-old Chafin served the 38th District for the last six years. He won re-election in 2019 with 64% of the vote. His office staff provided no further details about how long he had the virus. They just released a statement thanking VCU Medical Center for providing treatment.
“The family of Senator Chafin thank the VCU Medical Center in Richmond for its vigorous care and heartfelt support during his two weeks of medical services there,” the statement said. 

Chafin is the first Virginia lawmaker to die from the virus.

The news comes at a time when Virginia’s COVID-19 cases continue to spike. On Jan. 1, the state recorded 5,182 new cases, one day after hitting a new high of 5,239. In Southwest Virginia, it’s been a major factor. On Friday, Ballad Health reported 28.6% of all COVID-19 tests came back positive over the last seven days. 

RELATED: Virginia Lags Behind Federal Vaccination Targets

Flag Will Be Lowered

Northam said he ordered the Virginia state flag to be lowered over the Capitol in Chafin’s memory. It will remain at half-staff until sunset on the day of his funeral. 

“This is sad news to begin a new year with the loss of a kind and gracious man,” Northam said. “May we all recommit to taking extra steps to care for one another.” 

Chafin’s colleague, 1st District Del. Terry Kilgore, echoed Northam’s call, asking people to keep the senator’s family in prayer. 

“[Southwest] VA has lost a true leader,” Kilgore said in a statement on Twitter. “Ben was a strong advocate for [Southwest] VA and a great Virginian.” 

Chafin’s colleagues in both the Virginia Senate and the State House, where he previously served, remembered him as a kind man. Comments also came in from other groups, like Ballad Health. The company’s executive chairman Alan Levine said Chafin loved his family and loved Southwest Virginia. 

“Ben Chafin was a kind and good man and was beloved in the Virginia Senate,” Levine said. “He was a friend and this hurts. He truly cared about people and had a kind way about how he advocated for the people he was entrusted to serve.”

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