GRANGER, Ind. — Political leaders on Thursday honored Republican U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana as a determined advocate for her beliefs during a funeral after she and three other people were killed in a highway crash last week.
Numerous members of Congress were among several hundred mourners for the nearly two-hour service at Granger Community Church near Walorski’s northern Indiana home.
Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke about Walorski’s work as a Christian missionary in Romania with her husband, as the director of a local humane society and as a television news reporter before entering politics.
“Tell you the truth, Jackie never had a job. She always had a purpose and a mission,” McCarthy said.
Walorski, 58, was in an SUV with two members of her congressional staff on Aug. 3 when it crossed the median of a northern Indiana highway for unknown reasons and collided with an oncoming vehicle, according to the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office.
Walorski, her 27-year-old staffer Zachery Potts, of Mishawaka, who was driving, and her 28-year-old communications director, Emma Thomson, of Washington, D.C., all died, as did the woman who was driving the other vehicle.
Potts was Walorski’s district director and the Republican chairman for northern Indiana’s St. Joseph County.
Walorski was first elected to Congress in 2012 after six years in the state Legislature and was seeking reelection this year in the solidly Republican district.
Much of Walorski’s funeral highlighted her Christian faith, with her husband, Dean Swihart, an elementary school music teacher, playing saxophone with other musicians as they performed several hymns.
Republican Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri recalled becoming friends with Walorski after they first joined Congress at the same time and lived in the same Washington apartment building for many years.
Wagner choked back tears as she called Walorski “one of the best.”
“Jackie was a no-nonsense, get it done and move it or lose it woman of strength and intense integrity,” Wagner said.
Walorski was active on agriculture and food policy in Congress, often working across the aisle on those issues. A co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, she introduced legislation with Democrats to bring back a Nixon-era White House event on food insecurity.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said Walorski loved the country and was proud of her home area.
“One thing about Jackie, her step was always sure, her step was always forward,” Holcomb said. “She was optimistic and enthusiastic and, yes, energetic.”
Holcomb has set a special election to fill the remainder of Walorski's current term running through the rest of this year for the same date as the Nov. 8 general election.
Under Indiana law, it will be up to local Republican officials to decide nominations for the special election and to replace Walorski on the ballot for the full two-year term. The state Republican Party has scheduled an Aug. 20 caucus meeting for those selections. No Republican candidates have yet announced for the seat.
Rep. Walorski's career
Walorski and her husband were previously Christian missionaries in Romania, where they established a foundation that provided food and medical supplies to impoverished children. She worked as a television news reporter in South Bend before turning to politics.
Walorski spent her political career focused on growing the economy and bringing good jobs to northern Indiana. She also sought to strengthen national security and help veterans in need of care.
"At every level of public service, Jackie was known to be a positive force of nature, a patriot, and a relentless policymaker with an unwavering loyalty to her constituents," Holcomb said. "Jackie’s record of achievement is impossible to quantify."
GALLERY: Life and legacy of Indiana Congresswoman Jackie Walorksi
She served on the House Ways and Means Committee, giving her the opportunity to play a crucial role in how leaders use the nation's funding.
She also was a ranking member of the subcommittee on Worker and Family Support, where she focused on helping small businesses and manufacturers grow and expanding opportunities for workers across the country, according to her biography on the U.S. House of Representatives' website.
She was also a ranking member of the House Ethics Committee.
Holcomb said Walorski will be remembered as, "a fighter with a huge heart that always went the extra mile and I’ll treasure the times we walked a few of those together."
Walorski won the Republican primary in May after running unopposed and was heavily favorited to retain her seat for a sixth term in November.
Republicans will have to choose another candidate to run in the general election, but state GOP leaders say she'll be hard to replace.
"Yeah, haven't even given that any thought. I mean, they won't be able to fill her shoes, they just won't. She was one of a kind," said Indiana Republican Party chairman Kyle Hupfer.