Flags in NC lowered to half-staff to honor former US Sen. Kay Hagan
RALEIGH, N.C. — Tributes poured in Monday from North Carolina and Washington, D.C., praising former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who died after battling a lengthy illness, her family and Democratic party leaders confirmed to WRAL News. She was 66.
“We are heartbroken to share that Kay left us unexpectedly this morning,” her 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.
“Most of all, we already miss her humor and spirit as the hub of our family, a role she loved more than anything. Nobody could light up a room and make people feel welcome like Kay,” her family said.
Hagan, a Democrat who was seen in public this weekend at a fundraising event for former Vice President Joe Biden, was elected in 2008 and served one term before she was defeated by Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis during a bruising contest for the seat in 2014.
Gov. Roy Cooper ordered U.S. and North Carolina flags lowered to half-staff through sunset Tuesday to pay tribute to Hagan, who was born in Shelby.
Hagan served 10 years in the state Senate, representing Guilford County, before besting Republican U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole in 2008. Before entering politics, Hagan worked as a lawyer and in the banking industry.
In 2016, Hagan was diagnosed with Powassan virus, an illness transmitted by ticks. According to experts, there is no vaccine or antiviral drug that can combat the ailment.
As word began to spread about her death, the condolences started pouring in for Hagan.
“The world is a little grayer since we lost this amazing woman and dear friend today,” Claire McCaskill, former U.S. senator for Missouri, tweeted.
Biden also tweeted his condolences.
“Kay Hagan 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,” Biden’s tweet said. “Jill and I are deeply saddened by this news and extend our condolences to her entire family.”
Republican 6th District Congressman Mark Walker, who represents the Greensboro area, said Hagan worked tirelessly for North Carolina.
“Sen. Hagan was dedicated to serving North Carolinians and especially to the men and women of the Armed Forces in America’s most military-friendly state,” he said in a written statement.
Cooper recalled the days when they both served in the state legislature.
“I’ve known Kay since our days in the legislature together,” Cooper’s statement said. “Kay was a fierce advocate for North Carolina, and she represented our state with courage and grace her entire career.
“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,” Cooper said.
Hagan rose quickly in the General Assembly to become one of the Senate’s primary budget writers under former Gov. Mike Easley. Easley had to negotiate the state budget with Hagan for many years, and he said she was warm but drove a tough bargain.
“She was such an angel and delightful personality, but at the same time, she could be just as tough as nails,” Easley said. “I remember her on [Senate] Appropriations standing up to a lot of the older guys in the legislature.”
Those who served in state government with her said news of her passing hit close to home.
“Notwithstanding the fact that we are of different parties and had philosophical disagreements, I always had a warm and friendly relationship with her,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said, noting they served in the Senate together for eight years and both represented Guilford County.
Tillis, who defeated Hagan for the Senate seat he now holds, said in a written 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.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr praised Hagan’s dedication to North Carolina.
“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,” he said in a statement. “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.”