Rep. Elijah Cummings, a political giant and civil rights advocate who served in Maryland’s legislature before representing the state in the U.S. House, died early Thursday morning at the age of 68.
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the congressman’s wife, said he died at 2:45 a.m. at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Cummings said her husband’s death resulted from complications concerning longstanding health challenges. Over the past couple of years, he had been in and out of the hospital.
“He was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility,” his widow said.
Recently, as sightings of the congressman grew increasingly rare, Cummings had been seen using a walker. He recently underwent an undisclosed medical procedure, and his office expected that he would only miss about one week of work.
“Dr. Elijah Saunders and I took care of Congressman Cummings for [years] for his blood pressure,” said Cummings’ longtime nurse, Barbara “B.J.” Shaneman. “He always called me the boss because he told his team I was a short woman with a big voice. I would fuss at him about watching his blood pressure. His health was my concern. I screamed when I heard the news. I said, ‘this can’t happen.’ I said they [Cummings and Saunders, who died in 2015] were the last of the old guard.”
The congressman was known as a passionate advocate for his beloved Baltimore, notably defending the city in July after President Donald Trump disparaged parts of Cummings’ district as a “rodent-infested mess where no human being would want to live.”
Cummings immediately responded.
“Those in the highest levels of government must stop making hateful, incendiary comments that only serve to divide and distract the nation from its real problems, including mass shootings and white supremacy,” he said. “Those in the highest levels of the government must stop invoking fear, using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behavior.”
Cummings, head of the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee, had also taken on a lead role in the Trump impeachment inquiry.
The congressman told a local reporter that he and Trump had just one face-to-face conversation since the president took office in 2016.
“I said, ‘Mr. President, you’re now 70-something, I’m 60-something. Very soon, you and I will be dancing with the angels. The thing that you and I need to do is figure out what we can do — what present can we bring to generations unborn?'” Cummings said.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Cummings obtained his bachelor’s degree in political science from Howard University, serving as student government president and graduating Phi Beta Kappa. Later he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law.
The recipient of 13 honorary doctoral degrees, Cummings dedicated his life of service to uplifting and empowering the people he is sworn to represent, according to his biography.
He began his career in public service in the Maryland House of Delegates, where he served for 14 years and eventually became the first-ever African American in state history to ascend to the position of House speaker pro tem.
Since 1996, he had represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“He was a champion of the people, a soldier and a warrior for his city, the state and the nation,” said Baltimore Times Publisher Joy Bramble. “Elijah Cummings made Baltimore and all of those who came across better.”
Cummings often said that children “are the living messages that we send to a future we will never see.” He was committed to ensuring that the next generation has access to quality health care and education, clean air and water, and a strong economy defined by fiscal responsibility.
His last act in Congress came on Oct. 8, when he joined three others from a bipartisan group to introduce The Family Asthma Act, which seeks to expand federal, state and local efforts to improve care for individuals with asthma.
“Long live the freedom-fighting spirit of Brother Leader Congressman Elijah Cummings,” said Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., National Newspaper Publishers Association president. “On behalf of the Black Press of America, we extend our heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Cummings and the Cummings family.”