GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Family and friends paid tribute Sunday to former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, eulogizing her as a “humble and kind” public servant who used hard work and good manners to get things done.
Hagan, who won election in 2008 as the state’s first female Democratic senator, died Oct. 28 of a rare virus. She was 66.
Hagan’s funeral service at First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, where she had lived for decades, featured tributes from her children and political dignitaries.
Gov. Roy Cooper and former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill were among those who eulogized Hagan, speaking before her casket draped in the American flag.
McCaskill wiped away tears as she quoted lyrics from the Tim McGraw song “Humble and Kind.” She said the song “perfectly described our Kay.”
McCaskill described how Hagan led a successful fight to get an all-male Senate swimming pool to allow women.
“Kay was so much bigger than the fight about the pool. She was substantive, head-down, hard work, no grandstander,” McCaskill said.
“No sharp elbows, laboring to elevate the voices that had no lobbyists, working her hardest to take care of the state, this state that she cared so deeply about,” she added.
Hagan worked in banking for about a decade before being a stay-at-home mother and then launching a career in politics. She won a seat as a Democrat in the North Carolina state Senate in 1998.
Ten years later, the still largely unknown state legislator defeated North Carolina’s first female Republican U.S. senator, Elizabeth Dole, to become the state’s first female Democratic senator. She served a single term in the Senate and lost her 2014 reelection bid to Republican North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis.
In the Senate, while initially reluctant, Hagan backed the Affordable Care Act pushed by then-President Barack Obama.
In 2011, Hagan sat on a congressional panel that questioned Army Secretary John McHugh regarding the unexplained deaths of 12 infants at Fort Bragg dating back to 2007. She also pushed for the release of documents pertaining to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
Cooper said he first got to know Hagan in the 1990s, when he was the state Senate majority leader and his job was to recruit good candidates to run for the state legislature. He said he realized he had “struck gold” when Hagan agreed to run for the state Senate.
“You could spend one day, one hour, one minute with Kay. Didn’t matter. You’d see right away her strength, her smarts, her commitment to public service,” Cooper said.
“Kay was a sparkplug; there’s no other way to describe it. When she walked into a room, you felt her energy and you sensed her spirit.”
About three years ago, Hagan contracted a rare virus spread from ticks to humans, leading to brain inflammation that made it difficult for her to speak and walk.