Elijah Cummings was so human. I think that had a great deal to do with his parents, who were both ministers. I think it’s something they instilled in him: to be kind, to be good, to be wise and to respect the dignity and the worth of your fellow human being. In the years I got to know him, I never heard him say a negative word about any person. For some people, it’s in their DNA to do what’s right.
We met in Congress, and I got to know him fairly well because from time to time people would confuse us. There would be individuals from his own city who would say things like, “I’m from Baltimore,” and I would say, “But I represent Atlanta.” People would sometimes call him John and they would call me Elijah, and we would laugh about it–and I took some joy in it, since he was taller and younger.
When he died on Oct. 17, at age 68, I heard the news on television. I had stayed up all night working and couldn’t fall asleep after that. He will be deeply missed, not just by the people of Baltimore but also by the people of America, especially his colleagues in Congress. When Elijah Cummings spoke, members listened. They wanted to hear his words. They said, “If Elijah Cummings said such and such a thing, it must be the right thing to do.” When he said yes, he meant yes. When he said no, he meant no. He was a leader among leaders. But more than a leader–Elijah Cummings was a friend.
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This appears in the November 04, 2019 issue of TIME.