Dick Hinch died from COVID-19, medical examiner finds

Dick Hinch died from COVID-19, medical examiner
finds 1

New Hampshire House Speaker Dick Hinch died from COVID-19, a medical examiner ruled Thursday following his unexpected death.

Hinch, who was only sworn in as leader of the state’s newly Republican-led Legislature a week ago, died Wednesday. Hinch was 71 and was starting his seventh, two-year term in the state House. He previously served as majority leader for the 2016-17 session and as minority leader when Democrats were in control the last two years.

His death was announced Wednesday night by his office, which did not give any details of what it called “this unexpected tragedy.” Hinch is the first New Hampshire to die during the session, according to House Clerk Paul Smith.

“We are sitting in unchartered territory here,” Smith said.

Rep. Sherman Packard, who represents Londonderry is serving his 15th term in the House, will remain the acting speaker until the full House membership meets Jan. 6.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff and said he was profoundly sad to learn of Hinch’s death.

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“Speaker Hinch was a fierce defender of the New Hampshire Advantage, a close friend, and a respected public servant,” Sununu said in a statement. “His loss will be greatly felt by the people of this state, and I ask Granite Staters to join me in praying for his family during this incredibly difficult time.”

Republicans won majorities in both chambers in November. Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said he had been looking forward to serving with a colleague he considered a best friend.

Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, also expressed sadness over Hinch’s death.

“I had the opportunity to work with him closely when I was Governor, including working together to enact a landmark settlement to improve mental health services and to increase funding for combating substance misuse,” Hassan said in a statement. “Serving in our legislature – and especially in leadership positions as Speaker Hinch did – requires tremendous effort, all in essentially a volunteer capacity. Speaker Hinch was deeply committed to this service, and I am grateful for all he gave to our state and our country.”

A U.S. Navy veteran, Hinch also was active in his community, serving stints on the Merrimack Board of Selectman and town budget committee. He also was the owner and principal broker of a real estate agency.

In an emotional speech when he was elected speaker Dec. 2, Hinch urged lawmakers to view each other as “friends and colleagues,” rather than members of opposing parties, particularly during a pandemic.

“I’ve been working with members of our caucus in good times and in bad for a number of terms. Long nights, stressful days, but charging ahead for what we believed was the proper course,” he said. “Through that time, I’ve worked to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.”

The swearing in of the the 400-member House and 24-member Senate was held outdoors at the University of New Hampshire because of the coronavirus pandemic. More than a quarter of House members, most of them Democrats, skipped the ceremony after learning the day before that several Republican lawmakers had tested positive for the virus after attending an indoor GOP caucus meeting Nov. 20 where many attendees weren’t wearing masks.

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