“We are all devastated by the passing of our boss and friend, Congressman Donald McEachin,” McEachin’s chief of staff, Tara Rountree, said in a statement late Monday night. Brave, we’ve watched him fight and triumph for years over the secondary effects of his 2013 colon 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 turned them on the first place.”
McEachin, a minister and attorney, was the 2001 Democratic nominee for attorney general, losing to Republican Jerry Kilgore. State Senator L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) recalled “watching him make history as the first-ever African-American nominee” for that position. He was only the third African American to represent Virginia in the U.S. House.
Although McEachin’s health problems had been known for years, his death still surprised many.
“When I heard the news of his death, I had a jolt of pain tonight,” says Lucas tweeted.
McEachin has publicly discussed his battle with cancer, and did so just two weeks ago. At a packed movie theater hosting a “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” party, McEachin stressed to the audience “the importance of early detection,” insisting on regular exams, as WTVR reported at the event. “Do not let them get to you. Don’t go through my journey,” McEachin said. “Go to the doctor.”
In 2018, McEachin attributed a dramatic weight loss to complications from his cancer treatment and walking miles around the Capitol every week. 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 colon.” He was also hospitalized for a blood clot that year.
But in 2020, McEachin told the Times-Dispatch that he was moving past the health issues that had led him to drop 60 pounds from his 6-foot-5 frame at one point.
“God makes you do things, and then He helps you through things,” 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 “goofy and cerebral all at once.” Born in Germany, McEachin studied political science at American University before earning his law degree from the University of Virginia. His wife, Colette McEachin, is the Commonwealth attorney for Richmond. They are the parents of three adult children.
McEachin faced Republican Leon Benjamin, also a minister, this year and in 2020. The Democrat won this year with nearly 65 percent of the vote.
Senator 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 loyal brother,” Kaine said in a statement emailed from his office.
In Congress, McEachin was known as a passionate advocate for environmental justice and policies to combat climate change, with a strong focus on their unequal impact on underserved or minority communities.
In line with those priorities, McEachin co-founded the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force, while also serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Natural Resources Committee, and Select Committee on Climate Crisis. He also fought to preserve historic lands and natural beauty, such as the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia.
Rountree said the congressional office will remain open and continue to serve McEachin’s voters until a new representative is elected. A special election for his replacement will be held on a date selected by Governor Glenn Youngkin (R).
“Heartbroken to hear of the passing of Don McEachin,” Representative Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), representing part of Northern Virginia, tweeted. “A noble friend, husband and father. An environmental activist, civil rights advocate, a loyal public servant and a man of prestige. There was no better ally. I will miss him terribly.”
Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), who served in the Senate with McEachin, called McEachin a dear friend and mentor and “a wonderful legislator and leader,” whose “trustworthy counsel and ever-soothing presence helped me navigate the ropes of public service in Richmond.” . She said she wouldn’t be in Congress today if it weren’t for him.
“When I considered going back in 2017 and visiting him on Capitol Hill,” Wexton wrote in a statement, “he left me a suicide note with the words of Thomas Paine written on it.: “These are the times that test the soul of man. The summer soldier and the sunny patriot will shrink from their country’s service in this crisis; but whoever stands by now deserves the love and thanks of husband and wife.’ Donald insisted that he and I were not “sunny patriots.” For his words of inspiration and belief in me, I am eternally grateful. I will miss my friend’s wisdom and encouragement very much.”
The Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus issued a statement calling McEachin’s death “a tremendous loss to our Commonwealth.”
Congressman McEachin was a brilliant, compassionate man. “His love for humanity has always been at the forefront of his work, whether it be civil rights, the environment, energy or voting rights. He is a voice that will certainly be missed, as will his presence.”