Rep. John Buckner, chair of the House Education Committee, died Thursday. He was 67.

The Aurora Democrat was at the center of 2015’s key education debates, including on testing. But he missed the last couple weeks of the session because of illness. House Democratic staff said Friday he had been battling sarcoidosis, a chronic respiratory disease. In an April 28 letter announcing his medical leave, he told his colleagues, “While I am sure some of you are relieved to get a break from me, don’t think for a moment that you’ve run me off!”

Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora
Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora

Buckner had a long career in education, including as a principal, before being elected to the House in 2012. During his time in the Cherry Creek School District he worked at Laredo Middle School and Smoky Hill and Overland high schools. The gym at Overland is named for him.

He was well respected on both sides of the aisle.

During a May 20 signing ceremony for two testing bills, Gov. John Hickenlooper and legislators praised Buckner’s contributions on the issue. His wife, Janet, represented him at the event.

Tributes were posted quickly Friday on Twitter.

Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, tweeted that she was “deeply saddened” and called Buckner “a great statesman & voice of clarity.”

“I am saddened by the loss of Rep John Buckner. We have lost an amazing leader, educator and friend,” tweeted former House Speaker Mark Ferrandino.

Hickenlooper issued a statement saying, “John Buckner was an invariably kind man, with a gentle sense of humor that brought people closer, never pushed them away. He brought that same spirit of inclusiveness to his work as an educator and a legislator, in his mission to ensure that all Colorado children have access to the best education possible. His vision, his passion and his presence will be greatly missed.”

A native of Indianapolis, Buckner had lived in Colorado since 1975. He is survived by his widow, three children and three grandchildren. Details about a memorial service are pending. His seat will be filled later by a Democratic Party vacancy committee.