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U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) concedes her Senate re-election race to challenger Thom Tillis at her midterm election night rally in Greensboro, North Carolina November 4, 2014. Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters

Former Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina dies at 66

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Kay Hagan, a former bank executive who rose from a budget writer in the North Carolina Legislature to a seat in the U.S. Senate, died Monday following a prolonged illness. She was 66.

Hagan died at her home in Greensboro, her family said in a statement.

“Kay meant everything to us, and we were honored to share her with the people of North Carolina whom she cared for and fought for so passionately as an elected official,” the statement read. “Most of all, we already miss her humor and spirit as the hub of our family, a role she loved more than anything. Nobody could light up a room and make people feel welcome like Kay. ”

Hagan died of encephalitis, or brain inflammation, caused by Powassan virus, a rare virus spread from ticks to humans, her former Senate spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said.

Hagan, a Democrat, served a single term in the Senate and lost her 2014 re-election bid to Republican North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Hagan was born in Shelby, North Carolina, on May 26, 1953. She earned her undergraduate degree from Florida State University in 1975, then earned a law degree from Wake Forest University three years later.

For 10 years, Hagan worked for NationsBank, which was to become Bank of America, where she became a vice president in the estates and trust division. After being a stay-at-home mother, the niece of former Florida governor and U.S. Sen. Lawton Chiles launched her own political career and won a seat as a Democrat in the North Carolina state Senate in 1998.

Ten years later, Hagan sought and won the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Elizabeth Dole.

Although she initially showed reluctance to lend her support, Hagan backed the Affordable Care Act pushed by President Barack Obama. She also worked to limit payday lending, continuing the work she began as a state senator.

In March 2011, Hagan sat on a congressional panel that questioned Army Secretary John McHugh regarding the unexplained deaths of 12 infants at Fort Bragg dating back to 2007. She also pushed for the release of documents pertaining to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.

Hagan supported raising the federal tax on a pack of cigarettes from 39 cents to $1 per pack, noting that while she backed using the money to fund an expansion of a children’s health program, she was concerned about the impact the tax would have on jobs at home.

In June, Hagan made a rare public appearance at a groundbreaking ceremony for an airport where she helped gain funding.

She helped break ground at Piedmont Triad International Airport’s new air traffic control tower. The airport executive director said at the time that Hagan visited the airport during her time as a senator and helped alert others in Washington to the need for a new tower.

“She climbed up into the tower, and she learned firsthand what its limitations are,” Baker said. “She then made it her charge to help get our project out of the doldrums and moving along.”

In addition to her husband, Hagan is survived by three children: Jeanette Hagan, Tilden Hagan and Carrie Hagan Stewart.

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