On Oct. 28, former North Carolina US Senator and first female Democratic Senator to represent the state, Kay Hagan, died in her Greensboro home. She was 66 years old.
Hagan died in her sleep after a three-year battle with encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain caused by the Powassan virus.
“We are heartbroken to share that Kay left us unexpectedly this morning,” the Hagan family said in a statement. “Kay meant everything to us, and we were honored to share her with the people of North Carolina whom she cared for and fought for so passionately as an elected official.”
Hagan is survived by her husband, Chip Hagan, and her children Jeneatte Hagan, Tilden Hagan and Carrie Hagan Stewert.
Hagan won her seat in the senate in 2009, defeating Republican incumbent senator Elizabeth Dole. She served until 2015, when she lost her reelection bid to Republican Thom Tillis.
Dole told the Charlotte Observer that her “thoughts and prayers are with her family at this very difficult time.”
“Susan and I are absolutely heartbroken,” said Tillis in a statement. “We extend our condolences and prayers to her loving family and many friends. We join all North Carolinians in remembering her dedicated and distinguished record of public service.”
Hagan and her husband established their family in Greensboro where her husband led the Chamber of Commerce and the Guilford County Democrats. Hagan worked as a corporate lawyer and served with groups such as the YWCA.
In 1992 and 1996, Hagan chaired Democrat Jim Hunt’s gubernatorial campaign in Guilford County. In 1998, Hunt helped Hagan run for the state Senate.
As the niece of a former US Senator, Hagan spent a total of 16 years in Raleigh and Washington as a lawmaker before leaving the senate in 2015.
In 2016, the News & Record reported that Hagan had fallen ill while in Washington and was admitted to the hospital with encephalitis. Following this episode, Hagan spent months in an Atlanta rehabilitation hospital.
On Sunday, Oct. 27, Hagan traveled to Durham to see former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
“I am grateful that I had the opportunity to see her in person just yesterday during my visit to Durham, and to spend time privately with her and Chip,” said Biden in a statement. “(She) was a courageous soul who lived every day of her too-short life with incredible dignity and character, even as the days became more difficult physically.”
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper ordered flags to fly at half-staff through Tuesday, Oct. 29. He called the former senator, “a fierce advocate for North Carolina” who “represented our state with courage and grace her entire career.”
“As President, I deeply appreciated her reasoned, pragmatic voice, whether we were working together to pass the Affordable Care Act, reform Wall Street, support working families, or just make Americans’ lives a little better…,” said former President Barack Obama in a statement. “We’re all better off because of her.”