Remembering Rep. Donald McEachin

FILE - U.S. Rep. Don McEachin D-4th. waves during a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe in Richmond, Va., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. McEachin died Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, after a battle with colorectal cancer, his office said. He was 61. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

By Meghin Moore

November 29, 2022

Weeks after winning a fourth Congressional term, Rep. Donald McEachin, a veteran of Virginia’s political scene, has died at the age of 61. 

In a statement released 10:20 p.m. on Monday night, McEachin’s Chief of Staff, Tara Rountree said:

“We are all devastated at the passing of our boss and friend, Congressman Donald McEachin. 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.

Until a new representative is elected, our office will remain open and continue to serve our constituents.

The family asks for privacy at this time. Arrangements will be announced over the next few days.”

McEachin’s death means that a special election will have to be held to determine who the new Congressional representative will be for the Fourth District, which represents the entire city of Richmond, as well as parts of Chesterfield and Henrico Counties. 

McEachin had been a part of Virginia’s political landscape since 1996, when he was first elected to serve in Virginia’s House of Delegates, serving three terms. In 2002, he became the first Black nominee for Virginia’s Attorney General. He later ran for the Virginia State Senate in 2007, holding office from 2008-2017. It was during his time as a State Senator that he made the decision to run for Congress. He won his Congressional election in 2016, becoming the third Black man to represent Virginia in Congress when his term started in 2017.

The news of McEachin’s death came as a shock, even though he had previously battled colorectal cancer in 2013, and announced in 2018 that a fistula had developed as the result of his cancer-related surgery. He was a determined man, who worked through the hard times to serve his constituents, no matter what. The obstacles he faced were only temporary to him.

During his time in Congress, the Black community in Richmond looked up to him, not just as a political leader, but as a mentor as well, as noted in The Richmond Times-Dispatch

He also wanted to help out his community the best he could using his time in Congress, where some of his priorities included combating climate change, protecting women’s reproductive rights and the Affordable Care Act, as well as preserving Black cemeteries. Earlier this year, he introduced a bipartisan piece of legislation: The African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act

“The preservation of African American burial grounds is of the utmost importance and imperative if we’re going to have a more comprehensive understanding of our nation’s history,” he said during the announcement. “This year’s legislation…takes more immediate steps by establishing great opportunities and providing technical assistance from the National Park Service to protect these sites.”

In the wake of his death, tributes have poured in from all over, highlighting just how impactful McEachin was not just as a political leader, but as an everyday citizen.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin took to Twitter late Monday night, where he noted that McEachin was a “valiant fighter until the end.”

Senator Tim Kaine first met McEachin in 1985, where they became “fast friends.” 

In a statement, he also made note that McEachin “was a gentle giant” and  “a compassionate champion for underdogs.”

Senator Mark Warner also spoke about how McEachin was a “great leader” who “never lost his focus on social and environmental justice.”

The Democratic Party of Virginia also released a statement on Twitter, noting how much of an impact he had on Virginia.

“A person of faith, Donald embodied the definition of service. He had a kind and generous heart; and for so many people, he was a voice of reason, and a man who listened to you, always showing compassion and care. He was wealthy in the only way that truly matters, with an abundance of friends and allies who loved and respected him. We could always count on him to give sound advice and guidance. His voice will be deeply missed.”

The Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus noted that McEachin’s “love for humanity was always uppermost in his work, whether on civil rights, the environment, energy, or voting rights.”

McEachin’s impact was also seen in national politics. Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Raul Grijalva, chair of the Natural Resources Committee, also released statements to their friend who faithfully served alongside them.

Rep. Bobby Scott (VA-03) wrote that his colleague “was a thoughtful and principled legislator and respected by people on both sides of the aisle. He was also a trail blazing figure in Virginia politics – being the first African-American nominee of a major party for Virginia Attorney General and only the third African-American elected to Congress from Virginia.”

Rep. Jennifer Wexton (VA-10) wrote a heartfelt tribute to her colleague, noting “Had it not been for him, I wouldn’t be in Congress today.”

McEachin’s Congressional colleagues across Virginia also wrote tributes in honor of Rep. McEachin, including all four of Virginia’s Republicans: Reps. Ben Cline (VA-06), Bob Good (VA-05), Morgan Griffith (VA-09), and Rob Wittman (VA-01).

Other political leaders across Virginia also commented:

Youngkin, who as governor is charged with setting the dates for special elections, has not yet announced when the election to replace McEachin will be held.

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