John Hager, who overcame contracting polio as an adult to serve as Virginia’s lieutenant governor, and hold other state and national positions, died Sunday, at age 83.
Hager, a moderate Republican, was part of the party’s first sweep, in 1997, when Hager was elected lieutenant governor, along with Gov. Jim Gilmore and Attorney General Mark Early.
“John Hager devoted his life to public service, and I admired his love for our country and for Virginia,” said Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, late Sunday. “I have ordered Virginia state flags to be flow at half-staff for 10 days in John’s honor.”
In 1973, after serving in the U.S. Army, Hager was a successful businessman, when he contracted polio, after his newborn son was vaccinated with a weakened live vaccine. He was initially paralyzed from the neck down.
With rigorous rehabilitation, Hager became a wheelchair athlete, completing more than a dozen marathons.
By the mid-1990s, Hager served as treasurer of Virginia’s Republican Party. In 1996 he began his run for lieutenant governor, and in 1997 defeated Democratic opponent L.F. Payne.
Northam, who served as lieutenant governor under Terry McAuliffe, said in a statement that Hager “helped me learn the job.”
“Anyone who worked in Virginia politics quickly learned that John was everywhere, and no one outworked him. He earned victory and knew defeat, and he kept going. John held fast to his principles, and he knew when to reach across the aisle to compromise. Our country misses his example,” Northam said.
Hager served as director of Virginia’s Department of Homeland Security, after Sept. 11, 2001, under Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat.
“I knew John Hager for more than 30 years, and I can attest that John epitomized the very definition of a true public servant,” Warner said, in a statement.
“John was a great Virginian, who despite the remarkable obstacles he faced in his personal life, was able to persevere and give back to his community.”
Hager served briefly as chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia.
“Virginia lost one of its premier sons with the passing of former Lt. Gov. John H. Hager, after a life well-lived as husband, father, grandfather, and revered public servant,” wrote party chairman Rich Anderson, in a statement.
John Hager, and his wife Maggie, were in-laws of the Bush family. Their second son, Henry, married President George W. Bush’s daughter Jenna, in 2008.