U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin dies at 61

Published 2:00 pm Tuesday, November 29, 2022

U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-Va., who represented Surry County in Congress, died Nov. 28 at age 61.

McEachin’s chief of staff, Tara Rountree, confirmed McEachin’s passing in a Nov. 28 press release, stating, “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,” the press release states. “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.”

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The 4th Congressional District spans south from Richmond to the North Carolina border. McEachin was first elected as the district’s representative in 2016.

He was reelected on Nov. 8 to what would have been his fourth consecutive two-year term, defeating Republican challenger Leon Benjamin with just under 65% of the districtwide vote to Benjamin’s just under 35%.

“Until a new representative is elected, our office will remain open and continue to serve our constituents,” the press release states.

Though Surry County, with just over 6,500 residents, gave McEachin far fewer constituents than the cities of Richmond and Petersburg, the congressman “always had his eyesight on Surry,” recalled Surry Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Judy Lyttle.

“He has done wonders, I would say, for Surry County; we were very thankful for his leadership in the region,” Lytle said, speaking to The Smithfield Times by phone Tuesday afternoon. “He will be greatly missed. Some leaders go up and they forget about you, but he didn’t.”

In 2019, McEachin, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Oh. and U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Ks., cosponsored a bill titled the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act, which would have established a new tax credit and grant program incentivizing grocery stores to set up in designated “food deserts” like Surry County, which lost its only grocery store in 1999. Though the bill didn’t pass, a grocery store partially funded by state and county tax dollars is slated to open in Surry in 2023.

In early 2021, when disparities in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines began emerging across Virginia, McEachin began pushing for equity in the distribution process, writing in a letter to then-state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver that the Crater Health District, which includes Surry, had “received the sixth-lowest amount of vaccines of Virginia’s 35 health districts” at the time.

Later that same year,  when Surry County was nearing a state-imposed 2023 deadline to abandon a well serving Surry County High School, McEachin arranged for $3.2 million to be added to a $43.4 billion House Appropriations Committee bill to fund Surry’s well replacement costs. McEachin then traveled to Surry in April of this year to personally present the ceremonial check to county officials.

“Surry County Public Schools had a strong bond with Congressman McEachin,” said SCPS Superintendent Dr. Serbrenia Sims. “Over the years, he visited our schools to participate in Take Your Legislator to School Month. He used these visits as opportunities to educate our students on key issues that he supported and to find out what was important to them. I distinctly recall conversations about the need for a bridge over the James River and high speed internet in the community. His kindness, generosity and willingness to serve others will be dearly missed.”

According to his congressional biography, McEachin was born in Nuremberg, Germany, on Oct. 10, 1961, graduating from St. Christopher’s School in Richmond in 1979. From there he attended American University in Washington, D.C., earning a bachelor of science degree in 1982; a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1986 and a masters in divinity from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University in 2008.

After serving in private practice as a lawyer, he served in Virginia’s House of Delegates from 1996 to 2002 and from 2006 to 2008, and as a member of Virginia’s Senate from 2008 to 2016.

Virginia’s Democratic Party chapter issued the following statement Monday evening:

“Donald McEachin was a pioneer and leader in Virginia. Serving in the House of Delegates, the State Senate, and as a Congressman, he embodied the meaning of public service — fighting for the most vulnerable citizens, defending the rights of all Virginians, and being a steadfast champion for the environment,” 

“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.

“On behalf of a grateful Democratic Party of Virginia, we are thankful for the life and legacy of Congressman Donald McEachin and extend our sincere sympathies to his wife, Colette, and the entire McEachin family.”

Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Rich Anderson expressed condolences on behalf of the party, issuing the following statement Tuesday morning:

“I served with then-State Senator McEachin in the General Assembly and know first-hand that he lived a life of service to our Commonwealth. Tonight, we honor his memory and lift up his family in prayer at this difficult time.”

Also expressing their condolences were U.S. Senators Mark Warner, D-Va., and Tim Kaine, D-Va.

““Donald and Colette McEachin have been wonderful friends to me and Lisa for more than thirty years. We often bonded over stories and laughs about our mutual challenges raising families with three strong-willed daughters,” Warner stated. “Up until the very end, Don was a fighter. Even though he battled cancer and faced other trials in recent years, he never lost his focus on social and environmental justice. Tonight, Virginia has lost a great leader and I have lost a great friend.”

“I met Donald McEachin in 1985 and we became fast friends,” Kaine’s statement reads. “Anne and I went to the Richmond party celebrating his marriage to Colette. Our kids were the same age, we shared a statewide ticket with Mark Warner, and we’ve been together in the Virginia federal delegation for years. I was last with him on election night three weeks ago, celebrating his win. He was a gentle giant, a compassionate champion for underdogs, a climate warrior, a Christian example, an understanding dad, a proud husband, a loyal brother. ‘Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise.’ Psalm 90:12.”

U.S. Rep.-elect Jen Kiggans, R-Va., who defeated Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District race on Nov. 8, issued the following statement on McEachin’s passing:

“I’m saddened by the passing of Congressman Donald McEachin.  Representative McEachin will be remembered for his consistent passion, leadership, and dedication to public service and his constituents.  I’m thinking of and praying for his family and loved ones.”

U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who represents Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, issued the following statement:

“It was with the deepest sadness that I learned of the passing of my colleague and friend Donald McEachin. Throughout his career of public service in the Virginia House of Delegates, the Senate of Virginia and the U.S. House of Representatives, Donald was a relentless champion for all Virginians and our Commonwealth. He was the son of an Army veteran and a public-school teacher and grew up in the area that he would go on to represent in the Virginia General Assembly and the United States Congress.

“Donald 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. Donald was resolute in pushing Virginia to lead the way in climate policy. He was also one of Congress’s strongest champions for environmental justice, fighting to ensure that our most vulnerable communities have access to clean air and water. The Commonwealth and our nation have lost one of its most dedicated public servants and fiercest advocates for justice and equality.

“I want to offer my deepest condolences to his wife Colette, their three children, his friends, staff and the countless individuals positively impacted by his life.”

According to Rountree’s press release, McEachin’s family has asked for privacy at this time, and funeral arrangements will be announced over the next few days.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional comments by SCPS Superintendent Dr. Serbrenia Sims.