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Virginia Senator Ben Chafin dies from COVID-19 complications

Chafin, who represented parts of the NRV and far Southwest, becomes the first member of the General Assembly to die from COVID-19
Published: Jan. 1, 2021 at 10:14 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Virginia State Senator Ben Chafin, who represented parts of the New River Valley and Far Southwest, died Friday due to complications from COVID-19. The Republican is the first member of the General Assembly to die from the virus.

According to a release from the Senator’s office, Chafin died after undergoing two weeks of treatment at Richmond’s VCU Medical Center.

Chafin had served in the Senate since 2014, after winning a special election to replace Sen. Phillip Puckett, who resigned. Chafin also served for a year in the House of Delegates.

In his campaigns, Chafin pitched himself as a native son of Southwest Virginia, someone who was in tune with the needs of coal miners and farmers who make up much of the district.

Outside politics, the Russell County native was a cattle farmer, lawyer, and principal of the Chafin Law Firm in Lebanon.

As the news of Chafin’s passing broke Friday evening, tributes pored in from both side of the aisle. Governor Ralph Northam wrote “Southwest Virginia has lost a strong advocate—and we have all lost a good man.” He ordered flags at the state Capitol and in Russell County flown at half-staff.

Fellow Republican Senator Todd Pillion wrote Chafin “loved life, his family, his work, and the people of Southwest Virginia, for whom he advocated tirelessly.”

Congressmen Denver Riggleman and Morgan Griffith also weighed in, Griffith writing that “I will miss this good and dedicated public servant.”

According to Virginia law, Chafin’s seat will be filled through a special election. The Code of Virginia states “when a vacancy occurs in the membership of the General Assembly during the recess of the General Assembly or when a member-elect to the next General Assembly dies...the Governor shall issue a writ of election to fill the vacancy.”

The Senator’s death also comes after months of debate around COVID safety in the General Assembly. The House of Delegates has been meeting remotely since the summer’s special session. The Senate has been meeting in-person at the Science Museum of Virginia’s Dewey Gottwald Center, where Senators’ desks can be socially distanced.

Chafin is survived by three adult children, Sophia Chafin Vance of Russell County, Audra Chafin Hobart of Erie, PA and Augustus Benton Chafin III (Gus) who resides in Buchanan County while attending the Appalachian School of Law.

According to the release from Chafin’s office, “the family, at Ben’s request, will not hold a formal burial service and request that in lieu of flowers and other acts of kindness to make food bank donations in Ben’s memory to the Elk Garden School Community Ministry at 52 Hayters Gap Road, Rosedale, Va., 24280.”

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