State Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell, died Friday from complications related to COVID-19, according to his legislative office.
Gov. Ralph Northam and the Republican Senate Caucus confirmed Chafin died Friday night. He represented a swath of far Southwest Virginia, including part of the New River Valley.
“With the passing of Senator Ben Chafin, Southwest Virginia has lost a strong advocate — and we have all lost a good man,” Northam said in a statement.
Chafin, an attorney who lived in Lebanon in far Southwest Virginia, and his family kept the information about the senator’s diagnosis private for weeks.
Chafin served in the House of Delegates for about a year before joining the Senate in 2014. He was 60.
Lawmakers and people in political circles heard about Chafin having the disease caused by the novel coronavirus in mid-December when he was hospitalized. His office didn’t respond to repeated requests from The Roanoke Times in December for information about his health.
Toward the end of December, a member of his church posted in a Facebook group that he was “suffering from complications due to COVID-19” and that his family was asking for prayers.
The Russell County Republican Committee posted on Facebook this week that Chafin had coronavirus
Chafin represented the 38th Senate District, which spanned from Montgomery County to Wise County. He was born and raised in Southwest Virginia, where he also ran a beef cattle farm.
He was elected to the House in 2013. He ran for the state Senate in 2014 in a special election to replace Democrat Phillip Puckett, who stepped down, resulting in Republicans taking control of the Senate.
Like others in the Southwest Virginia delegation, Chafin was an outspoken advocate for the region and efforts to rebuild the struggling economy.
“Ben loved life, his family, his work, and the people of Southwest Virginia, for whom he advocated tirelessly,” Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Washington, said in a statement.
After years of opposition to expanding Medicaid coverage to low-income residents, Chafin was one of a handful of Republicans to break from his party to vote in favor of it in 2018. He said at the time it was essential to ensuring that people in his economically distressed area had access to health care and to bolstering its hospitals.
As major green energy legislation moved through the legislature last year, Chafin helped tweak it so that the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center wouldn’t be forced to close so soon. He said the coal- and biomass-fired plant was important for cleaning up waste coal in the region, and it provided valuable tax revenues.