Members of the Virginia Senate placed red roses into vases on the desk of the late Sen. Ben Chafin then observed a minute of silence Wednesday as displays of respect for their colleague, who died earlier this month.
Senators and their colleagues in the House of Delegates then unanimously approved a resolution honoring Chafin for his years of service to the 38th District of Southwest Virginia and the commonwealth. Chafin died Jan. 1 as a result of complications from COVID-19. He was 60.
A special election to fill his seat will be held March 23, after this legislative session is over.
Speaking in the Senate’s temporary location inside the socially distanced Science Museum of Virginia, Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, eulogized Chafin as a friend and outstanding leader.
“He was the epitome of a Virginia gentleman whose passing leaves an irreplaceable Russell County-sized hole in their [family’s] hearts,” Pillion said, adding that Southwest Virginia is a “much better” place thanks to Chafin.
“To his extended family in the General Assembly, Ben was beloved on both sides of the capital and both sides of the aisle,” Pillion said, his voice cracking with emotion. “Armed with a quick wit, a positive demeanor and — more often than not — a pair of cowboy boots and a Stetson hat — he was a force to be reckoned with. Whether you voted with him or against him on any given issue, Ben could always be counted on to be a straight shooter and to treat friends and political foes with the respect and decorum this institution and Madam Clerk deserve.”
Pillion hailed Chafin as a “champion” on protecting constitutional rights, investing in schools and promoting economic development and access to health care, among many issues.
“If God needed an attorney, a banker, a farmer or just a really great friend, he’s certainly got one now. May the senator from Russell’s memory be an example for us all, and may we aspire to the example he set,” Pillion said.
Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, recalled becoming friends with Chafin and told stories about visiting each other’s homes over the years. He also cited Chafin’s “encyclopedic knowledge” of songs and song lyrics and quoted lines from a Natalie Merchant song as part of his tribute.
“Let the youth of America mourn, include him in their prayers; Let his image linger on, repeat it everywhere; With candles, with flowers, he was one of ours; One of ours,” Mason said.
Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, who was Chafin’s deskmate when the body convened in Senate chambers, urged lawmakers to try to “be like Ben.”
“Ben was a shining example of a wonderful gentleman who always found the best in everyone he talked to,” Cosgrove said. “Whether you were for him or against him on a bill, it didn’t matter. Ben was going to treat you as a friend. I hope, when it’s my time to go join Ben, that people can say the same about me: that I tried to find the best in people and wanted to be their friends and not adversarial.”