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Rep. Donald McEachin remembered as an unfailing champion for VCU

Members of the VCU and VCU Health community reflect on the impacts of the late congressman, who died from complications caused by cancer.

Rep. Donald McEachin hands a ceremonial check to VCU President Michael Rao U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin hands a ceremonial check to VCU President Michael Rao and Dr. Michel Aboutanos, the medical director of VCU Medical Center’s Level I Trauma Center and Trauma System Network and the director of the VCU Injury and Violence Prevention Program, for the RVA Gun Violence Prevention Framework. (VCU Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

By Sara McCloskey

U.S. Representative A. Donald McEachin, 61, died Monday night due to complications caused by colorectal cancer. McEachin represented the Richmond region and much of the area between the state capitol and Hampton Roads.

Those who worked closely with him say McEachin was always receptive to hearing from those in his district, and he put in the leg work to ensure the needs of Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health System were met. VCU President Michael Rao described McEachin as a dear friend, not only to him but to the VCU community.

“Donald was an unfailing champion for VCU and for the public mission of higher education. He always thought ahead and followed through on his many great ideas that benefited people in need. Donald made things happen for the people who needed him and his leadership the most,” Rao said in a statement. “He was a true scholar and a gentleman, and his friendship and leadership will be sorely missed by many of us. Monica and I, and the entire VCU community, send our heartfelt sympathy to our dear friend Colette, the McEachin children, and all who loved and appreciated Donald.” 

From 2008 to 2014, McEachin was a member of the VCU Health System Authority Board of Directors. He also served as a state delegate and senator in the Virginia General Assembly. Once joining the U.S. House of Representatives in 2017, McEachin was instrumental in securing funds to support a variety of programs and initiatives at VCU and VCU Health that benefited students, patients, faculty, and the community at large. 

“[Rep. McEachin] was a giant, and he had answered his calling well. There is so much to do to continue his legacy." 

- Dr. Michel Aboutanos, Medical Director of VCU Medical Center's Level I Trauma Center and Trauma System Network 

For instance, McEachin recently helped acquire $996,000 in federal funding to back the RVA Gun Violence Prevention Framework, which is a partnership between VCU, VCU Health, and the city of Richmond. This money will go towards hospital-based crisis intervention for survivors of violence and loved ones, as well as establish a data-sharing network for information among health systems, social service providers, law enforcement and other community partners. Overall, the project aims to address the underlying social, economic, and systemic factors that promote gun violence.

Dr. Michel Aboutanos, the medical director of VCU Medical Center’s Level I Trauma Center and Trauma System Network and the director of the VCU Injury and Violence Prevention Program, was saddened by the news of McEachin’s passing. He said he felt privileged to be one of the many people who “benefited from the congressman’s lifelong dedication to improve the well being of others, especially those with no voice.” 

“When I was going to the announcement of our gun violence prevention grant, he literally opened the door for me to come in. This had significant meaning, as I realized that he has opened the door in so many different ways,” Aboutanos said. “On behalf of all the patients that we have worked with, I say a silent and profound prayer of gratitude. His legacy will live on in every survivor of gun violence that we treat.”  


Rep. Donald McEachin on a tour of the VCU Rice Rivers Center with White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory

Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin ended their visit to the VCU Rice Rivers Center with an excursion to learn more about local fisheries and efforts to protect Virginia’s water resources.
(VCU Enterprise Marketing and Communications) 

The support McEachin provided reached all sides of the university and health system, including in areas of professional development and expanding opportunities for underserved populations. Here are a few examples:

  • RTR Teach Residency Early Childhood PathwayRTR Teacher Residency, the highly selective graduate teacher residency program of VCU School of Education, was awarded $400,000 over the summer to expand efforts into early childhood education. The funding, thanks to McEachin’s efforts, launched a new pipeline to recruit, support, train and retain early childhood teachers in Central Virginia public schools.
  • Mission Zero Grant: McEachin was one of the advocates for VCU Health to be recently awarded a “Mission Zero” grant, also known as the federal Military-Civilian Partnership for Trauma Readiness grant, which aims to reduce the number of preventable deaths from traumatic injuries both at home and on the battlefield. Through the program, military trauma teams and providers will be integrated within VCU Medical Center’s Level I Trauma Center to gain exposure to treating critically injured patients and increase readiness for future deployments. VCU Health is one of 24 hospitals in the nation to receive this grant.
  • Addressing the Health Workforce Shortage through a Community Workforce Continuum: While it is still awaiting congressional approval, McEachin was instrumental in campaigning for funding to address the health care workforce shortage in the region. VCU Health is in the process of creating a pilot workforce development program aimed at training students, particularly those with high school diplomas or equivalent degrees, in health careers where staffing is spread thin.

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