Northampton Rep. Peter Kocot, who has served in the legislature since 2002, has died, according to the House Speaker's office.
The death of the 61-year-old lawmaker came as a surprise to many in the House, and no immediate details on the cause of his passing were available. Some of his colleagues took to social media to share their condolences early Thursday afternoon.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo sent an email to House members informing them of Kocot's passing.
"It is with profound sadness that I write to notify you that our dear friend and colleague Peter Kocot passed away this morning," DeLeo wrote in a short message. "Chairman Kocot was one of the most kind, decent and selfless individuals that I have had the pleasure to know. Our prayers are with Peter's wife, Shauneen, his children and extended family and his staff."
Rep. Paul Donato (D-Medford), who joined the legislature with Kocot in the 2001-2002 session, said Kocot had been ill and unable to attend some meetings on Beacon Hill recently. Donato remembered Kocot as "mild-mannered, intelligent."
"I think if you were to describe him, he was a gentle giant," said Donato. "It's a loss to that entire area up there."
Kocot often shared with his Statehouse colleagues fresh corn and squash from farms in his district, Donato said. Kocot's First Hampshire District covers Hatfield, Northampton, Southampton, Westhampton and Montgomery.
"I am absolutely incredibly saddened," Donato said.
DeLeo said he would share details of funeral arrangements as they become available.
Kocot was the House chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing, a panel that has been working on major health care legislation.
Wow. Chairman Peter Kocot? No way. Wow. Sad news. May you Rest In Peace my friend. The commonwealth just lost a champion.
— Evandro C. Carvalho (@Evandro4Boston) February 22, 2018
Very saddened to hear about the passing of Rep. Peter Kocot. A great partner to Governor Patrick @DevalPatrick and our Administration and strong advocate of Western Mass and rural communities.
— Tim Murray (@TimMurray_MA) February 22, 2018
I’m still in shock after hearing of the passing of one of the finest men I’ve met in State Govt. Rep. Peter Kocot (L) was a giant amongst giants with the passion for service and a heart as big as he was. RIP my friend. We #intheberkshires will miss you. #mapoli pic.twitter.com/bLawW50G96
— Smitty Pignatelli (@repsmitty) February 22, 2018
Pioneer Valley Planning Commission chair Tim Brennan worked on a number of issues with Kocot, from housing to transportation.
Brennan remembers Kocot as empathetic, thoughtful and deeply concerned about disadvantaged populations.
"He had a big heart, and that big heart meant that he needed to respond in a human kind of way to the heavy duties that he was responsible for day-in and day-out at the state legislature," Brennan said. "So there are people like him, but he was absolutely a stand-out in that regard."
State Representative Steven Kulik, who's retiring after this term, said he's known Kocot for 30 years.
"It creates a huge loss in our legislative delegation, and a huge loss for the Commonwealth," Kulik said. "Peter was just one of the most well-respected and most-liked and most-knowledgeable legislators -- and hard-working legislators -- that I've ever known."
Another colleague, Pam Wilmot of the group Common Cause Massachusetts, said Kocot had strong ethics and integrity, "as well as a good strategic sense. There are plenty of people who have opinions that are good, but he knew how to get people to embrace them."
Prior to holding elected office, Kocot was a longtime staff member of former House Majority Leader William Nagle of Northampton. He ran for the seat after Nagle resigned to become clerk magistrate of the Ware District Court.
Karen Brown contributed to this report, a version of which was published by State House News Service.