State lawmaker Peter Kocot of Northampton dies at 61

  • State Rep. Peter Kocot, left, and Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz were among those attending a protest against white nationalism Aug. 13 outside City Hall in Northampton in the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Va.

  • Shauneen O’Donnell Kocot and Peter Kocot laugh at a joke at their expense by guest speakers Dr. Raymond Conway and Brian Rust during the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at the Hotel Northampton in 2016.

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    State Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, addresses a crowd in Pulaski Park during the "Our Lives on the Line" march and rally in Northampton on Saturday, July 29, 2017. The event was part of a national day of action against Republican efforts to repeal or scale back parts of the Affordable Care Act.

Published: 2/22/2018 5:47:55 PM

NORTHAMPTON — State Rep. Peter V. Kocot, a longtime Northampton Democrat who has served as the 1st Hampshire District’s representative since 2002, died Thursday. He was 61 years old.

“He was a good man, he was a good state rep,” said William Nagle, Kocot’s predecessor in the 1st Hampshire District and his former boss.

Kocot had been battling an illness in recent weeks, according to state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington. He is survived by his wife, Shauneen, and his two sons, Jake and Luke.

“I’m sorry to say it’s true,” Kulik said of Kocot’s death. “It’s a huge, huge loss to the region, to his family and friends and to the district. Just a really, really amazing legislator.”

Nagle said Kocot started working for him as a legislative staffer in 1978, shortly after Kocot graduated from Brown University.

Nagle noted Kocot’s pride at having graduated from Brown, where he played football and achieved high grades.

Joseph Kocot, Kocot’s brother and a longtime Easthampton football coach, now retired; said Peter, the oldest of five siblings, had assumed the role of head of the family after their parents had passed.

“He’s been the patriarch of the family,” Joseph Kocot said.

He noted how the family was proud of his work at the Statehouse, and how his brother had enjoyed outdoor activities. 

No funeral or memorial for Kocot had been planned as of Thursday evening.

Nagle recalled he and Kocot’s many car trips over the years from western Massachusetts to Boston.

“We spent a lot of time in the car,” he said.

He praised his former aide’s ability as a writer, his command of policy and his compassion.

“He had great compassion for people,” Nagle said.

When Nagle chose to step down from the 1st Hampshire District seat to take the position of clerk-magistrate of Eastern Hampshire District Court, he was majority leader and Kocot was his chief of staff. Nagle supported Kocot’s effort to succeed him.

“I was thrilled,” he said.

Nagle said Kocot’s experience as a legislative aide made him a formidable legislator.

“There was no learning curve for Peter,” he said.

Ellen Story represented the 3rd Hampshire District on Beacon Hill from 1992 to early 2017, and knew Kocot as both an aide and a legislator.

“He was one of the savviest legislators in the building,” she said. “And one of the smartest.”

Story characterized Kocot as one of the stars of the Legislature, and said he always had the big picture in mind.

“He is irreplaceable,” she said.

At the time of his death, Kocot served as chairman of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. He was also a member of the House Committee on Ethics, which he once chaired.

Polish heritage

Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, praised Kocot as a bright and insightful legislator. He said comprehensive ethics reform was passed when Kocot was chairman of the ethics committee, and that he had been appointed to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing to work on comprehensive health care reform by House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

“The speaker trusted Peter,” Scibak said.

Scibak said that Kocot could seem intimidating at first, given his size and stature, but noted that he’d been compared to a giant teddy bear.

“Peter would make you comfortable right from the start,” he said.

Scibak noted that he, Kocot and Kulik all share Polish heritage, and that Kocot had gotten a bill passed that set up a commission to preserve Polish heritage in the Valley. Scibak said the commission’s report would be coming out in the next few weeks.

“It will be a testimony to Peter,” Scibak said.

He also said he would miss his friend’s humor and smile.

Northampton City Councilor At-Large William Dwight spoke to both Kocot’s decency and effectiveness as a legislator.

“The most decent person you could ever hope to find,” said Dwight. “Especially in the political strata.”

Dwight said that Kocot was effective in transmitting the progressive ideals of Northampton into legislation, and was also successful in advocating for the city’s needs.

“He will be dearly, dearly missed,” he said.

Condolences for Kocot were sent out from all branches and levels of government.

“Representative Kocot was a man of immense conviction, compassion, and intellect who cared deeply about the people and communities he served and the everyday issues affecting their lives,” said Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, in a statement released to the media. “He was a champion for social and economic justice who worked tirelessly and with great humility to better our city, his district, and the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“More important than his public service, Pete Kocot was a loving and devoted husband, father, brother, and son who will be forever remembered and missed by all who knew him and had the privilege of calling him a friend,” Narkewicz wrote.

DeLeo sent an internal email to lawmakers Thursday informing them of Kocot’s death.

“It is with profound sadness that I write to notify you that our dear friend and colleague, Peter Kocot, passed away this morning,” DeLeo wrote. “Chairman Kocot was one of the most kind, decent, and selfless individuals that I have had the pleasure to know. Our prayers are with Peter’s wife, Shauneen, his children, extended family, and his staff.”

Senate President Harriette Chandler said in a statement she was deeply saddened to learn of Kocot’s death.

“Chairman Kocot was a passionate leader and a strong advocate for his constituents,” she said. “His experience and presence will be deeply missed in the State House.”

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, said in a statement that Kocot was a fighter for the less fortunate.

“Peter was a great public servant with a big heart. He fought hard for what he believed in, and always listened carefully to the communities that sent him to Beacon Hill,” McGovern said.

“Massachusetts is a better place because of his thoughtful, principled leadership on issues like voter registration and public records reform. And he was an unwavering voice for the most vulnerable in our communities. To Peter, everyone was important and no one was invisible.”

The 1st Hampshire District consists of Northampton, Hatfield, Southampton and Westhampton in Hampshire County and Montgomery in Hampden County.

Speaker DeLeo’s office said that it could not say at this time when or if a special election would be held to fill the seat.

Bera Dunau can be reached at

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