WASHINGTON - For a delegation that easily logs more than a million highway miles every year, Wednesday's news of the death of U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski and staffers Zachery Potts and Emma Thomson was a staggering, drop-to-your-knees moment of shock and then overwhelming grief.

Lee Hamilton once told me it could take him five-hours to cross the old sprawling 9th CD. Highway and air travel are a fact of life for members of Congress. A typical day in a district is a member schedule with five, seven, eight events, meeting with farmers, mayors, business folks, with hundreds of miles logged, with grueling days sometimes stretching to 12 to 14 hours, from dawn 'til dusk.

It's a testament to staffers that the Walorski tragedy doesn't happen more often. In Jackie Walorski, we witnessed through her General Assembly and then congressional career a fabulous person with a huge, servant's heart.

At a moment when brittle partisanship permeates Washington, Walorski’s death shook the capital and drew an outpouring of grief from leaders of both parties.

“We may have represented different parties and disagreed on many issues, but she was respected by members of both parties for her work on the House Ways and Means Committee on which she served,” President Biden said in a statement. “She also served as co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, and my team and I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was shaken by Walorski’s sudden and unexpected death. “This news is absolutely devastating,” McCarthy wrote in a Tweet. “Jackie was a dear friend, trusted advisor, and the embodiment of integrity who achieved the admiration and respect of all her colleagues in the House. She always put other first.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who ordered the flags at the Capitol to be flown at half-mast in honor of Walorski, was one of several mourners who noted her kindness. “A lifelong Hoosier, Congresswoman Walorski lived a life of service: whether caring for impoverished children in Romania, representing her community in the Indiana Statehouse or serving nearly a decade in the House,” Pelosi said in a statement. “She passionately brought the voices of her north Indiana constituents to the Congress, and she was admired by colleagues on both sides of the aisle for her personal kindness.”

Walorski was the top-ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support. She replaced fellow Hoosier Todd Young on the committee in 2017 after Young won a Senate seat in the 2016 election. She was in line to chair the subcommittee next year, if Republicans win the House in November’s election.

“Jackie brought a passion and love to her public service that I will always remember,” Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said in a statement. “She put nervous witnesses at ease with her kindness, and never met a stranger. Her bright smile, booming laugh, but most of all, deep commitment to children and families will be forever missed on the Ways and Means Committee.”

The Ways and Means ranking Republican, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, cited Walorski’s positive outlook and energetic approach to legislating. “Congresswoman Jackie Walorski was a happy Hoosier who would light up the room with her joy, passion, brilliance, and love of life,” Brady said in a statement. “There was nothing she couldn’t do: She was a tough, fearless advocate for her district, and she was a champion of vulnerable children and families as leader of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support.”

First elected to Congress in 2012, Walorski’s tenure in the House not only took her to a leadership position on one of the highest-profile and most coveted committees in Congress – Ways and Means – and also to one of its most thankless outposts. She was ranking member of the House Ethics Committee, where she dealt with issues her colleagues gladly avoided but also built political capital for the way she handled the sensitive role.

Walorski’s effort to promote women in science, technology, engineer and mathematics brought her into contact recently with Indiana University President Pamela Whitten. Walorski is co-chair of the congressional Women in STEM Caucus.

Walorski and Whitten, who is IU’s first female president, met for the first time via a Zoom call last week, said Doug Wasitis, IU associate vice president for federal relations. “She was absolutely, clearly committed to advancing young girls and women in the STEM field,” Wasitis said. “We were very excited to watch her in that world.”

Wasitis also was hoping to connect Walorski with Joanna Mirecki Millunchick, who was recently appointed the first female dean of IU’s Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering. A former congressional aide who served for several years on the House Appropriations Committee staff, Wasitis has worked with many members of the Hoosier delegation. He said Walorski was one of the best. She was particularly in tune with issues at the heart of 2nd CD life, such as manufacturing. “She got her district,” Wasitis said. “She knew what [her constituents] needed.”

That was a sentiment also highlighted by her delegation colleagues. “Staying true to her Hoosier values of hardwork, determination, and public service, Representative Jackie Walorski fought each and every day for the lives and livelihoods of Hoosiers in Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District,” Hoosier members of Congress said in a joint statement. “She was a great friend and colleague to many of us in Congress and her untimely death is a tremendous loss for the House of Representatives and the state of Indiana.”

The statement was attributed to Republican Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun and Reps. Andre Carson (D, 7th CD), Larry Bucshon (R, 8th CD), Jim Banks (R, 3rd CD), Trey Hollingsworth, (R, 9th CD), James R. Baird (R, 4th CD), Greg Pence, (R, 6th CD), Frank Mrvan (D, 1st CD) and Victoria Spartz (R, 5th CD).

Former Sen. Dan Coats also was shocked by Walorski’s passing. “Over the years, I joined Jackie at parades and events, and we got to know each other well,” Coats said in a statement. “I deeply respected Jackie’s passion to serve Hoosiers. She was a dynamic representative for northern Indiana who was valued and loved by all.”

Everyone who expressed sympathy for Walorski’s family also offered condolences for her two young staffers who also were killed in Wednesday’s car crash, communications director Emma Thomson and district director Zachery Potts.

HPI always appreciated Thomson’s professionalism in keeping the media informed about Walorski’s work and her positions on issues. In an era when it has become a widespread practice for press aides to ignore media requests, Thomson responded, no matter how controversial the issue.

Here are other reactions to Wednesday's tragedy:

Gov. Eric Holcomb: "Janet and I are devastated by the tragic loss of our friend Congresswoman Jackie Walorski and her two staffers - Emma Thomson and Zach Potts - earlier today. Our broken hearts go out to her husband Dean and the entire family during this time of unimaginable mourning. At every level of public service Jackie was known to be a positive force of nature, a patriot, and a relentless policy maker with an unwavering loyalty to her constituents. Jackie’s record of achievement is impossible to quantify. She 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. Every waking moment for her was energetically devoted to improving the lives of all Hoosiers better, the epitome of a good and faithful servant. She, and the example she set, will be missed every day forward.”

Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch: "I was shocked and heartbroken when I received the news today about the tragic death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski. Jackie and I served together in the Indiana House of Representatives, and she was a fighter for her constituents and conservative Hoosier values. My heart goes out to her husband, Dean, and the rest of her family and friends. She will be deeply missed."

Attorney General Todd Rokita: "Jackie Walorski was a woman who stood strong in her values, cared for her family, and served Hoosiers well. I have many great memories and stories of our time together in Congress and on the campaign trail. In addition to everything else, she had a great sense of humor. She will be missed. Our sympathies also go out to the families of Zach Potts and Emma Thomson who died in the same tragic accident. Hoosiers across the state mourn the loss of these public servants."

U.S. Rep. Banks: “My heart is broken for Dean, the Walorski family, and all who knew and loved my friend Jackie. Jackie was a true public servant –selfless, humble, and compassionate. She was a devout Christian, a passionate advocate for life, and a leader among Hoosier representatives. Everything Jackie did was to serve others. Before Congress, she served in the Indiana Statehouse and she and her husband served as missionaries in Romania where they provided impoverished children food and medical care. From my first day in Congress, Jackie showed me kindness and grace. She had a heart of gold, and I will miss her dearly. Please join Amanda and I in praying for Jackie’s loved ones and the friends and family of her two staff members who also lost their lives in this tragic accident.”

U.S. Sen. Todd Young: "I'm truly devastated. Jackie loved Hoosiers and devoted her life to fighting for them. I'll never forget her spirit, her positive attitude, and most importantly her friendship. All of Indiana mourns her passing, along with the tragic deaths of her staff Emma Thomson and Zach Potts. Please join me in praying for their families in this difficult time.”

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun: “Earlier today I got the tragic news that my good friend – one of the first people I met when I was exploring the idea of running for Senate – was tragically killed in a car accident. All of us are on the road a lot, and when you spend those hours – endless sometimes – you never imagine that one day that could happen. When I heard that it was the ultimate gut punch. Emma Thomson and Zach Potts were along with her: three Hoosiers that we will miss. It’s hard to come up with the words to say how we’ll get through it, but for most of us – and especially in my case – Jackie was one of the first great Hoosiers I got to know on my own journey. She will be missed, and I send my condolences to all of the families.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence: "Karen Pence and I are heartbroken by the tragic passing of our dear friend Rep. Jackie Walorski. She served Indiana in the Statehouse and the Congress with integrity and principle for nearly two decades and will be deeply missed."

Ambassador Joe Donnelly: "I am deeply saddened by the death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski today. We also grieve for the loss of life of Zachery Potts, Emma Thomson, and Edith Schmucker. This is a terrible tragedy."

Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg: "I'm shocked and saddened to hear of the tragic death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and the other victims of this terrible crash. Though we came from very different places politically, she was always prepared to work together where there was common ground, always decent and straightforward, and she cared deeply about her work and her constituents."

Notre Dame University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.: “The University community deeply mourns the tragic passing of U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Walorski. She was always a gracious and welcoming supporter of Notre Dame students in Washington, D.C., and frequently invited our faculty to testify on issues before Congress. Congresswoman Walorski was also an advocate and supporter of key initiatives on campus, including the Notre Dame Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities and its important work of building evidence and data to strengthen anti-poverty intervention programs. We pray for her and the other accident victims and their families, including Jackie’s husband, Dean. May God welcome them into eternal rest and give comfort to those who grieve their loss.”

Purdue President Mitch Daniels: “There could not be worse news. I’m heartsick at this tragedy. Jackie Walorski was a great public servant, a brave and constant ally for change during all my years in elected office, and a great representative of her district at both the state and national levels. I can’t say how much I’ll miss her.”

U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan: “I am deeply saddened to learn of the sudden passing of my Indiana colleague and Congressional-district neighbor Rep. Jackie Walorski.  I am grateful for our all too brief shared time together in the U.S. House of Representatives and appreciate her consistent friendship, example of public service, and openness to conversation.  My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends during this difficult time, as well as with the loved ones of her staff member Emma Thomson and St. Joseph County Republican Chair Zachery Potts.”   

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise: “I am devastated and saddened to learn about the tragic passing of my dear friend Jackie Walorski and two of her staffers,” Scalise said.

House Speaker Todd Huston: “Jackie was an incredible public servant and tenacious advocate for Hoosiers, and my heart breaks for her family and all those who knew her and served alongside her. I'm grateful for Jackie's years of service and friendship, and she's left an indelible impression on all of us. I'm also praying for the families of her two young staff, and the other driver who passed away in this tragic crash."

State Sen. State Senator David Niezgodski: “I am shaken and deeply sorry to hear about the passing of Representative Walorski, Zachery Potts and Emma Thompson. Rep. Walorski has represented our community for a decade, and was always fiercely dedicated to her constituents and the betterment of Indiana. My thoughts and condolences are with her loved ones as well as the loved ones of Mr. Potts and Ms. Thompson.”

State Rep. Jake Teshka: “I am devastated by the loss of my dear friends Representative Walorski, Chairman Zach Potts and others in today’s tragic accident. Both Jackie and Zach were dedicated public servants who cared deeply for our community. More than that, they were loyal friends, loving family members and messengers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I join our entire region in mourning tonight but take comfort in knowing that they are at rest in their Savior’s arms. I pray God’s peace over their families at the incomprehensible time.”

Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood: "It is with great sadness that I learned of the tragic passing of Rep. Jackie Walorski. On behalf of the Citizens of Mishawaka, Jamie & I send our deepest condolences to her husband Dean, Rep. Walorski’s family & the people of the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana."