Colleagues and constituents are mourning the sudden death of a long-time state legislator from western Massachusetts.
Northampton State Rep. Peter Kocot, one of the best liked and most respected members of the Massachusetts House who tackled the most complicated issues with intelligence and wit, died Thursday. He was 61.
Survived by his wife and two sons, Kocot represented the 1s Hampshire District since 2002.
He had been ill, according to several legislators, but his colleagues said they were stunned when they got word of Kocot’s death in an email from the office of House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
“Chairman Kocot was one of the most kind, decent, and selfless individuals that I have had the pleasure to know,” DeLeo wrote.
State Rep. Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington) said Kocot had real attention to detail and always tried to understand all sides of an issue and sought out compromise.
"He could balance progressive ideals with a very pragmatic approach to getting things done in the legislature," said Kulik.
Kulik said Kocot led annual efforts to secure state funding for food assistance programs for the poor. Last year, he was the principal sponsor of a bill to overhaul the state’s public records law for the first time in 30 years.
He was recently named House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing and also served on the House Ethics Committee.
Before he was elected to the legislature, Kocot was an aide to former House Majority Leader William Nagle of Northampton.
Kulik, who said he’d known Kocot for almost 30 years described him as a “wonderful person to spend time with.”
"He could talk knowledgeably, and with great humor, about a whole host of subjects from gardening to cooking to baseball and politics of course," said Kulik.
Kocot was a large man, standing well over 6-feet-tall. State Rep. Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow) described him as “a gentle giant.”
" He was a wealth of knowledge about the institution of the legislature and a great story-teller," said Ashe, whose State House office was two doors away from Kocot's. "He'll be missed professionally, and personally by me."
State Rep. Aaron Vega (D-Holyoke) said Kocot took his job as a state legislator seriously, so much so that he would remain in his seat in the House chamber during a formal session listening to every word that was said during a debate.
" A lot of us are coming and going from the chamber during formal sessions, going to meetings and checking on email, but you never had to go looking for Peter during formal sessions because you knew he was going to be in his chair," said Ashe.
State Sen. James Welch (D-West Springfield), who was co-chair with Kocot of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, said his thoughts go out to Kocot’s family.
" We have a tight knit close delegation here in western Massachusetts, so we get to know each other a bit, and Peter is definitely going to be missed by all of us," said Welch.
Condolences for Kocot came from many inside of government and out including Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) and U.S Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.
Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, in a statement released by his office said, “Representative Kocot was a man of immense conviction, compassion, and intellect who cared deeply about the people and communities he served and the everyday issues affecting their lives.”
No funeral arrangements have been announced.
A special election will likely be held to fill the remainder of Kocot’s term to the end of 2018.