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In Memoriam | Spring 2023

In Memoriam: Rep. A. Donald McEachin

U.S. congressman realized lifelong dreams

As a young man, U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin (Law ’86 CM) often announced his professional aspirations. From the beginning of each relationship, he told his future wife, his longtime law school friend and his law partner exactly what he wanted to become—a politician.

“Once we started dating, he made it clear that not only did he want to be in Congress, but he wanted to be president,” said his wife, Colette McEachin (Law ’85), the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Richmond.

Rep. A. Donald McEachin U.S. House Office of Photography

McEachin made good on most of those aspirations—serving in the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia before his election to represent Virginia’s 4th Congressional District in 2016. The Democrat was reelected to his fourth term just weeks before he died on Nov. 28, 2022, from the effects of treatment for colorectal cancer, which was diagnosed nearly a decade before. He was 61.

McEachin’s dreams were shaped in childhood. Born in Nuremberg, Germany, to a U.S. Army officer and schoolteacher, McEachin was tired of the constant moves. When his parents told him the “government” decided where they lived, he decided then that he wanted to be part of it, Colette said.

He set down the path to realize those aspirations, majoring in political science at American University, attending law school at UVA, and opening the law firm McEachin and Gee in Richmond.

He was focused on the potential for government to do good in people’s lives, those closest to him said. Environmental justice, an interest cultivated while earning his master’s degree in divinity from Virginia Union University in 2008, became a central issue and a primary frustration. As a Black man, he found it difficult to convince the media that he had something to say on topics beyond civil rights or criminal justice. “The biggest challenge for me is getting out of the box,” he said during a 2018 speech at UVA Law. 

But he managed to push for change, co-founding and leading the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Congressional Task Force and advocating for the Environmental Justice for All Act, which aims to “restore, reaffirm and reconcile environmental justice and civil rights.” 

In a statement, Vice President Kamala Harris called McEachin “tireless in the fight for justice.” 

“I was particularly honored to partner with him on legislation to advance environmental justice and secure a cleaner, healthier and more fair future for all,” she said. “I will miss his friendship and his advocacy and passion for improving our world for generations to come.” 

“From day one, his dream was to make the Commonwealth a better place,” said S. Bernard Goodwyn (Law ’86 CM), a law school friend and chief justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia. “And it was just gratifying to see somebody from when they were just a kid with a dream to actually doing what they had always said they wanted to do. And after they reached their dream, for them to say, ‘And it’s everything I thought it would be.’”

McEachin is survived by his wife, three children and a grandchild.

—Sarah Lindenfeld Hall