We were saddened to learn of the death of a true North Carolinian and a true public servant, former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who died Monday at 66 after a three-year battle with encephalitis. She leaves behind loving family members, many friends and colleagues and a reputation as a tough fighter who also knew how to bridge political divides with grace and humor.

Following a career in banking, Hagan established herself in the state Senate, where she represented Guilford County for 10 years before winning a single term to the U.S. Senate in 2008. She was the first Democratic woman there to represent North Carolina. She lost her seat to Sen. Thom Tillis by the slimmest margin in what was then the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history. Aside from politics, she was passionate about exercise, the arts and her Presbyterian faith.

As Sen. Richard Burr said in a statement on Monday, “Kay dedicated much of her life to serving North Carolina, and she will be remembered for her tireless work on behalf of the home and the people she loved. In our time as Senate colleagues, we worked across the aisle together frequently on issues that we both knew would determine what type of country our children would inherit.”

Those issues included conservation and sterner punishment for child abusers. They also worked together to pass a bill to compensate veterans stationed at Camp Lejeune who were diseased because of tainted water.

These are among the issues that animated Hagan.

Tillis said in a statement, “Susan and I are absolutely heartbroken by Senator Kay Hagan’s sudden passing, and 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 to our state and nation.”

Her Democratic colleagues praised her no less. “She was, quite simply, a terrific public servant — eager to find common ground, willing to rise above the partisan fray, and always focused on making progress for the people she served,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement.

“She was a champion for North Carolina and a fierce defender of all its citizens,” former Vice President Joe Biden said 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.”

“Kay was a fierce advocate for North Carolina, and she represented our state with courage and grace her entire career,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement. “She made it a mission to inspire young people, especially young girls, to enter public service, and she served as a role model to so many.”

She did indeed serve as a model of dedication, civility and hard work. We need more like her today.

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