Democrats who gathered for a fundraising dinner Saturday hoped that former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan would be able to see the program planned as a tribute to her, though she has trouble speaking and uses a wheelchair as a result of a rare illness contracted more than a year ago.
Hagan was unable to make the trip from Greensboro. She was hospitalized late last week with pneumonia. But the tribute continued with testimonials in person from her family and on video from former President Barack Obama and former Gov. Jim Hunt and with reminiscences by friend and former colleague U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the featured speaker at the dinner.
Hagan, 64, served one term in the U..S. Senate, defeating Republican Elizabeth Dole in 2008. She had served 10 years in the state Senate, rising to become a budget writer.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis defeated Hagan in 2014.
In December 2016, she fell ill in Washington, D.C. She was diagnosed with encephalitis, or brain inflammation, caused by a rare virus spread from ticks to humans.
Hagan's husband, Chip, said she contracted the Powassan virus.
"It hit her hard," he said. "However, you know she is a fighter."
An average of nine Powassan virus cases a year were reported from 2007-2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ten percent of Powassan encephalitis cases are fatal. About half the survivors have permanent neurological symptoms.
U.S. senators visited Hagan during treatment in Atlanta and in Greensboro and call to check on her progress, Klobuchar said.
Hagan's daughter, Carrie Hagan Stewart, said that on Dec. 4, 2016, four days before she was hospitalized in Washington, Hagan spoke to a group of 150 women in North Carolina about the importance of female candidates.
"She concluded with a solicitation that someone in that group run for office," she said.
One of the group's organizers, Ashton Clemmons, is running for the state House in a Guilford County district, and three other members of the Greensboro group are running for other elected positions, Stewart said. "So, the good news, Mom, your recruitment efforts worked," she said.
Democrats are highlighting women in their party running for office this year; 77 Democratic women are running for legislative seats, about twice the number of Republican women.
Women make up about 53 percent of the state's registered voters but hold one-quarter of the state's 170 legislative seats.