Hugh McKean was known for telling people that he loved them.
So at the late House minority leader’s memorial service Thursday at the Colorado Capitol, attendees were asked to take a moment and turn to the person next to them and share McKean’s love.
“I want you to turn to a stranger — Democrats, say it to a Republican if you can find one — and tell them ‘I love you,’” said Scott James, a Republican Weld County commissioner and a friend of McKean’s.
As Democratic Gov. Jared Polis and former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, turned to each other, dozens of others gathered in the rotunda of the state Capitol did the same. McKean’s ashes, surrounded by a color guard, lay in state.
A Loveland Republican, McKean died from a heart attack Oct. 30, shocking the political world. He had turned 55 days earlier.
“His example and his memory have united us in gratitude today in this rotunda to say, as Coloradans, rest in peace, leader,” Owens said from a lectern overlooking dozens of dignitaries, state lawmakers, lobbyists and McKean’s friends and family.
McKean was elected to the legislature in 2016 and chosen by his caucus to serve as its leader in 2020. At the time of his death, McKean was actively working to repair divides in his caucus.
House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, told a story about how when he was working on a bill letting judges order the temporary seizure of guns from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others, McKean drove to meet Garnett at the speaker’s daughter’s soccer practice to discuss the legislation.
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“At the end, he said, ‘I fiercely disagree with you and I’m going to fight you on this issue, but I’m going to do it respectfully,’” Garnett said.
He added that McKean never failed to have his voice heard when he disagreed, “but he didn’t put our friendship, he didn’t put the institution, at risk because of that disagreement.”
McKean had a sense of humor, too. He once replaced the water in Garnett’s water bottle with vodka.
McKean, who was raised outside of Philadelphia, was a member of the Loveland City Council before becoming a state lawmaker. He was elected to the council in 2009. He also worked as a general contractor.
“He really made time to connect with people,” Polis said during the service. “He was the kind of person who listened and heard what someone had to say. Though it doesn’t alleviate the pain, I hope it is a comfort knowing that the man you loved has left a lasting legacy in our state of Colorado, in this building and across the state.”
McKean is survived by his partner, Amy, and his two adult children. A vacancy committee made up of Republicans in House District 51 will select McKean’s replacement at the Capitol. McKean was running unopposed.
In the hours before the memorial service, the House Republican caucus chose Rep. Mike Lynch of Wellington to take over the position of minority leader.
“I was elected to replace Hugh McKean,” he said. “But I will tell you, you cannot replace Hugh McKean.”