By Paul LeBlanc, CNN
US Rep. Donald McEachin, a Virginia Democrat, died Monday, according to a statement from his office. He was 61.
“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.”
“Until a new representative is elected, our office will remain open and continue to serve our constituents,” Rountree said.
The seat will remain vacant until a special election is held. McEachin, who represented Virginia’s 4th Congressional District, which includes the state capital of Richmond, was reelected comfortably earlier this month in the typically Democratic-leaning region.
McEachin was first elected to Congress in 2016 after serving in both chambers of Virginia’s General Assembly.
In each role, the Virginia lawmaker championed reforms to US gun laws, environmental protection and affordable health care.
“This really is a dream come true folks,” McEachin told supporters in his 2016 victory speech. “We know we’re out here making history and that history doesn’t come easy.”
President Joe Biden said he and the first lady were saddened by McEachin’s passing and that he will “always be grateful for his friendship, and his early and fierce support when I ran for President.”
“He fought for justice, for civil rights, and for communities that are often left behind. Thanks to Don’s leadership and tireless advocacy, we passed historic legislation to combat the climate crisis and advance environmental justice,” Biden wrote in a statement released Tuesday.
The son of an Army veteran and a public school teacher, McEachin graduated from American University with a degree in Political Science and from the University of Virginia School of Law. He also received a Master of Divinity from The Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University, according to his House biography.
News of McEachin’s death was met with warm remembrances from those who knew him.
“Up until the very end, Don McEachin 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,” Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia tweeted. “Tonight, Virginia has lost a great leader and I have lost a great friend.”
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia similarly hailed McEachin as an exemplary civil servant.
“I met Donald McEachin in 1985 — we became fast friends. A gentle giant, a compassionate champion for underdogs, a climate warrior, a Christian example, an understanding dad, a proud husband, a loyal brother,” Kaine tweeted.
Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly, meanwhile, called McEachin a “noble friend, husband, and father.”
“An environmentalist, civil rights advocate, faithful public servant, and a man of consequence. There was no better ally to have. I will miss him terribly,” Connolly tweeted.
While McEachin sought to address global issues during his time in Congress such as climate change, he also spoke to local needs during his reelection victory party earlier this month. “We need to make sure we can deliver basic services to our district,” he told reporters at the time.
McEachin was a lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and the NAACP, his House biography said. He also served as a member of the Virginia State Bar and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association.
McEachin is survived by his wife Colette and three adult children.
This story has been updated with additional information Monday.
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CNN’s Rashard Rose contributed to this report.