Georgia Sen. Greg Kirk died Sunday morning, about six months after announcing he had cancer. He was 56.
Kirk, an Americus Republican, shared in June his diagnosis of bile duct cancer, and colleagues announced last week that he had been moved to hospice care.
The Georgia Senate, through its Twitter account, said Kirk had a passion for serving those who were less fortunate.
“A man of outstanding character, and one who was a champion for doing what is right, made him one of our most fervent leaders and also one of our most gracious,” said the Senate press office.
He was elected to the state Senate in 2014.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, a Carrollton Republican, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he and about 10 members of his caucus went to Americus on Friday to visit Kirk in hospice care.
“He was in good spirits,” Dugan said. “You could tell he was tired, but he was engaging.”
Dugan said several other lawmakers had written Kirk over the months since he went public with his diagnosis.
“They were writing letters telling him what they thought of him and his impact he had on all of us,” Dugan said. “That will be more lasting for (Kirk’s wife) Rosalyn than our visit. It’s something she can hold on to.”
Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, a Stone Mountain Democrat, said Kirk was passionate about helping Georgians with disabilities.
“I knew him before he was elected, when we worked together on issues for people with disabilities,” Henson said. “Senator Kirk cared deeply about our state and the citizens of Georgia. His willingness to listen and find common ground will be very much missed in the Senate.”
Many of Kirk’s colleagues took to Twitter to share expressions of condolences online.
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who presides over the Senate, said his heart was heavy as he reflected on Kirk’s service.
"Greg was a tremendous asset to the Senate, but more importantly he was a loving husband, father and grandfather," Duncan said on Twitter.
Gov. Brian Kemp said Kirk served with integrity.
"At the State Capitol, Senator Kirk was an effective lawmaker who led efforts to spur job creation, strengthen rural Georgia, protect life, and safeguard our freedom," Kemp said.
State Sen. Renee Unterman, a Buford Republican, said she was heartbroken over Kirk's death.
"There are no words to describe the sadness in my broken heart today; the last words Greg said to me were 'see you on the other side;' until then valiant warrior, I will carry the sword for you just as we always did together for those suffering with mental illness & challenged," she wrote on Twitter.
And House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, said Kirk's loss would be felt across Georgia.
“Senator Kirk devoted his life to glorifying God and building up his community,” Ralston said in a statement. “He had a servant’s heart and a compassionate spirit. We will miss his leadership and his friendship.”
A former pastor, Kirk also was a licensed counselor who owned a mediation company in Americus.
Kirk gained attention in 2016 when he authored a version of a "religious liberty" bill that eventually was vetoed by then Gov. Nathan Deal.
Kirk had pushed for legislation that would have allowed religious officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages and make it legal for faith-based groups to refuse to rent facilities if the event conflicted with their beliefs.
In an interview with Albany-based WALB that aired Friday, Kirk got emotional when he said he was most proud of sponsoring legislation in 2015 that protects people from being sued for damages if they have to break into a vehicle to help a child who's been left unattended inside during hot weather.
The legislation came after several high-profile incidents in Georgia of children being left in locked vehicles. Kirk said at the time he hoped it would make people more aware when they’re driving with children.
Kirk has seven children and 10 grandchildren.
“We’re sad,” Dugan said. “He’s a good man. And he’s a good friend. He had a passion for (helping) those with developmental disabilities that is going to be tough to replace.”