State Sen. Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud, has died from complications from COVID-19, the first Minnesota state legislator to die from the disease.
Relph, 76, had been hospitalized after contracting the virus last month. His infection came during an outbreak that sickened several Senate Republicans and staff members, including Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake.
Relph was the lead author of legislation in March that provided $21 million to the state’s early COVID-19 response bill.
“Jerry dedicated his life to service and representing Senate District 14 was one of the highest honors he had,” his wife, Pegi Broker-Relph, said in a statement. “I can’t count the number of times he would come home at night and tell me about helping solve a constituent’s problem, or a story he heard from someone in a parade or at a public event, or even just someone he met during a ‘day on the hill’ event. He loved serving the people of St. Cloud in the Senate, and he cherished every minute of it.”
Gazelka in a statement said Relph “was a true friend and colleague loved by so many.”
He added: “For four years, he rolled up his sleeves and tackled tough issues for our state. Senator Relph will always be remembered as a dedicated public servant. He was already thinking of ways to have an impact on his community after narrowly losing his re-election. We are deeply saddened by his passing and offer our prayers and support to the Relph family.”
Relph, a retired attorney, was born Sep. 4, 1944 in Boston, Mass, where his father was stationed in the Army. Relph moved to Minnesota to attend Carleton College where he played hockey and studied philosophy, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1966, according to his campaign biography.
He served in Vietnam after enlisting in the Marines Corps and later returned to Minnesota to study law at William Mitchell College of Law. He later moved to St. Cloud with his wife, Colette, and practiced business, real estate and municipal law. Colette died in 1999.
Relph later remarried, meeting his second wife, Pegi, while he built a digital map-making company. Relph has two children, and four stepchildren, as well as three grandchildren.
Relph was first elected in 2016, but recently lost his re-election to his Democratic-Farmer-Labor challenger, incoming state Sen.-elect Aric Putnam.
The Senate GOP caucus has faced criticism for holding a pair of in-person events in early November: a caucus meeting at the Capitol as well as a 150-person post-election victory party held indoors with little mask-wearing.
The caucus failed to inform nonpartisan staff and their Democratic-Farmer-Labor counterparts ahead of a November special legislative session.