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Friday, February 3, 2023

‘Richmond lost a great leader. I lost a great friend.’

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RICHMOND, Va. — Congressman Donald McEachin (D – 4th District) died Monday after a battle with colorectal cancer. He was 61. In 2001, McEachin ran for Virginia Attorney General on a ticket with then gubernatorial candidate and current U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D – Virginia). Sen. Warner shared his memories of Donald McEachin the day after his passing. The following transcript is lightly edited for clarity.

Sen. Mark Warner (D – Virginia)

I got the news last night and I was shocked.

All of us have known Donald had been struggling with cancer and the aftermath for years.

But I talked to him a couple of times after the election about next year’s agenda and he was all extremely positive.

I had a chance to talk to Colette, his wife, briefly last night, I think the family was shocked.

I think back 30 plus years I’ve known this guy and his family.

We ran together as ticket mates in 2001, when I ran for governor, and he ran for attorney general. And while he was not successful at the run for attorney general, I saw him campaign in parts of Southside and Southwest and in the Valley in a way that brought, I think a special skill he had, an ability to relate to people.

He was always a leader fighting for the underdog.

He was one of the first people I know of that started to link environmental issues with the fact of justice issues that too often in the last 50-60 years, environmental degradation took place oftentimes in poor communities.

And that had to be an agenda not only about how we clean up our air, but how we also make sure those communities don’t get hurt in the next transition.

He was a really strong voice for that.

We had kids growing up at the same time and they were similar ages.

It was a shock.

It’s a loss for the Commonwealth.

It’s a loss for the people of the Fourth District.

For me, personally, it’s the loss of a great friend.

Cameron Thompson

Can you talk about the type of person he was.

Mark Warner

Donald was, in a certain sense, a big guy, but he was a gentle big guy.

I think, Tim Kaine called him a gentle giant.

We also saw over these last couple of years, as cancer made havoc with his body, you saw him move a little bit slower until he got behind the microphone, and then that passion and energy still came out.

Being in public life is hard.

It doesn’t matter which party you belong to and your family takes some of the grief from this.

Donald brought both the skills he had as an extraordinarily successful lawyer to being an elected official, but he also brought a bedrock of faith, he was also an ordained minister.

And in so many ways, his Christian faith was something that I think gave him strength, through the medical challenges, through any family all have family challenges, to political challenges. And it kept that sense of optimism that I saw as recently as just literally in conversations with him after the election, where he was already talking about a big agenda for next year.

Cameron Thompson

Do you remember the last conversation you had with him?

Mark Warner

I don’t remember the exact date, but it was about what we might do in terms of… I’m going leave it on a private basis.

It was a specific issue we were talking about in terms of how we would grapple with the General Assembly and how we can lead the whole congressional delegation.

Again, it was one example where it was on an issue where he was he was encouraging the whole at least the Democrats in the congressional delegation to act together.

It was the kind of quiet leadership he asserted many, many times.

Cameron Thompson

He had a very public battle with cancer. [Some] people step back from their responsibilities in life, but he kept doing what he was doing through that entire battle.

Mark Warner

That was the thing that was again, remarkable.

I saw him at times when he would never say he was hurt. He was never saying he was struggling. He was always saying, I’m getting better. I’m coming back. And that kind of grit and determination, I think that comes from a supportive family, but I also think it comes from a bedrock faith he had.

There are a whole lot of times, I thought, oh my gosh, I worried that he was out and about when he at times appeared to be a bit frail but there was nothing frail about his heart and his spirit and his desire to do great public service.

Cameron Thompson

Senator, is there anything more you’d like to add or feel we haven’t touched on

Mark Warner

Virginia lost a great public official. The Fourth District lost a great leader. The Richmond area lost a great leader. I lost a great friend. And I think there are a whole lot of Virginians that knew him, regardless of where they fall on the political agenda, feel like the same way in terms of losing a great friend.

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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