“Continue to Keep Him in Our Hearts”

Joe Montano, Jr., Northern Virginia Regional Representative for Senator Tim Kaine and Democratic Champion, Passes Away at 47

The Democratic Party lost a champion. Joe Montano, Jr., Northern Virginia Regional Representative for Senator Tim Kaine, passed away in his home in Falls Church, Virginia earlier this week. He was 47.

Joe at work. Photo credit: Allan Bergano of Filipino American National Historical Society of Hampton Roads

Joe was a tireless advocate in the field. During many prior conventions, Joe would be found galvanizing the necessary vote in the field—educating voters and building community in the process. This year, he planned to attend his first Democratic National Convention to cheer on and support his boss, Senator Tim Kaine — the junior senator from Virginia who cemented his place in the national political spotlight as Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate late last week.

Like Senator Kaine’s meteoritic rise to the national political stage, Joe’s service with Senator Kaine as his Northern Virginia Regional Representative serves as an exclamation mark on a colorful career devoted to the Virginia Democratic community.

Addressing a cohort of Virginia delegates and supporters at breakfast on Wednesday morning, Senator Kaine praised Joe for his dedication and commitment to public service: “Joe was a proud member of an immigrant family and a patriotic American. If you know Joe you never saw him without a big smile and a booming laugh that would get everyone’s attention. He was a bridge builder who brought together the beautiful rainbow of Virginia’s diversity to talk about the hard issues. We must go forward out of respect and memory for our great friend and Virginia democrat Joe Montano.”

Senator Mark Warner—the senior senator from Virginia and former Virginia governor — recounted memories of Joe’s unmistakable presence in Virginia politics: “Joe was a reassuring and reliable presence at every type of official or political event. He was passionate about politics, proud to be a champion for the Filipino American community, and completely dedicated to serving others. My thoughts today are with Joe’s family, friends, and all of those he helped and served.”

Senator Kaine’s and Senator Warner’s admiration and praise for Joe similarly reverberated with Delegate Mark Keam—a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, who called Joe one of his “closest friends and fellow foot soldier on the battlefield of civil rights and progressive politics.”

Delegate Keam, for whom Joe served as a campaign advisor, pledged to work twice as hard to make up the time and work that Joe will be unable to do on this campaign. I want to win this one for Joe Montano.” He continued, “Today, as we begin the first campaign in over a century to elect a Virginia Democrat to national office, I am saddened to know that Joe will not be on the trails. Exactly a week ago, I was with Joe and his boss, Senator Tim Kaine, as we eagerly anticipated the potential of the Senator being named Hillary Clinton’s running mate. Tonight, the Democratic Party will officially nominate Tim Kaine as our Vice Presidential nominee. This morning, Senator Kaine told the Virginia delegation to the convention about how he spent the day before he received Hillary Clinton’s call with Joe, attending community meetings in Northern Virginia and discussing important issues that Joe wanted the Senator to push for, such as immigration reform and fighting prejudices against Muslims and others. As devastated as I am over losing a close friend, I also feel energized for the same reason that Senator Kaine is motivated.”

Today, at the final day of meetings of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Caucus at the DNC, members of the AAPI community anticipated Joe’s remarks on the heels of Senator Kaine’s selection as Hillary Clinton’s running mate—a platform for Joe to continue advocating for the progressive values and policies for which he has advocated his entire life. In remembrance, Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, the junior senator from Hawaii, asked for a moment of silence to remember a life that has so profoundly impacted the AAPI community.

Prior to his tenure in Senator Kaine’s office, Joe worked with Obama for America, the Democratic Party of Virginia, and the Democratic National Committee. In his various roles, Joe enriched the lives of everyone he encountered; as Delegate Josh Chernila describes it, Joe was a zealous advocate “fighting… in the front lines of politics” for progress.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe was deeply “[s]addened by the loss [of] Joe Montano” who he called “a great friend and advocate”—noting that Virginia “will miss his passion and boundless enthusiasm.”

Photo credit: Mary Dotson

Congressman Don Beyer, who represents Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, similarly expressed his condolences: “I lost a friend yesterday with the passing of Sen. Kaine’s Regional Director Joe Montano. Joe was a voice for the people of Northern Virginia, committed to achieving progress through public service. We need more like him, and his death at such a young age fills me with sorrow. He will be missed deeply.”

Congressman Gerry Connolly, the Representative from Virginia’s 11th Congressional District, echoed a similar sentiment. Connolly described Joe as “[a]n energetic, passionate and hardworking Democrat. Always with a smile, Joe served his community well. His loss will be felt throughout Northern Virginia.”

Yohannes Abraham, who worked with Joe in 2008 as the former Obama Virginia Field Director, recalled that “Joe was a genuinely kind human being. No matter who you were, he greeted you with a smile and as a friend. I know I speak for the rest of the Obama-Biden for Virginia ’08 team in saying that he made us better, both because of his work and his infectious positivity. We are all grateful to have had the opportunity to work with someone who was as committed to progressive change as he was to treating people with decency.”

As others in Virginia Democratic politics offer their condolences, they remember Joe as “an incredible Virginian,” an “MVP,” and “one of the nicest guys in politics.” Joe continues to be widely praised as a friend to all people, a passionate community activist, and a committed public servant.

Joe was also “a champion of the Filipino American community” and the Asian American Pacific Islander community at-large. In a statement from his family, Joe was described as someone who “was proud of who he was and where he came from.”

As a graduate of The George Washington University, Joe was actively involved in The Philippine Cultural Society as a college student. As a young leader, Joe foreshadowed his career in public service in the organization’s 1996 spring newsletter: “I don’t see myself as a politician or a spokesperson. I see myself a fighter, someone who knows the history of this country and seeks a better future not only for himself but others as well.”

Joe’s impact in the AAPI community continues to be felt. Anjali Nagpaul—the former Executive Director of the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP) — recounted fond memories of Joe when she first became an Executive Director: “I am forever indebted to him for welcoming me into the API community in DC and educating me about running a small nonprofit. The long workdays were bearable because every chance I got, … I would hide away in Joe’s office — laughing, plotting, and figuring out where we would be going for happy hour that night… Joe, with his beautiful smile, built community where ever he went.”

Joe was not only the anchor of so many communities, but also a beloved son, brother, and uncle. He is survived by his parents Lori Montano and Jose Montano, his siblings Amy Lopez and Ben Montano. As we all remember his love, his energy, and his laughter, his family urges all to share stories of Joe and to “continue to keep him in our hearts.”