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'We let our guard down': Former Alabama senator dies of COVID-19 at age 78

A former Alabama state senator died of COVID-19 last week at age 78, officials said.
LEE DIXON DIAL
Sen. Curt Lee, R-Jasper, left, Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, center, and Sen. Gerald Dial, D-Lineville, talk at the Alabama Statehouse in 2004.Jamie Martin / AP
/ Source: NBC News

A former Alabama state senator died of COVID-19 last week at age 78, officials said.

Former Sen. Larry Dixon, a Republican who also served as the executive director of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, died from COVID-19 on Dec. 4, the board said in a statement on Friday.

Dr. David Thrasher, a close friend of Dixon and a pulmonologist in Montgomery, told NBC News that Dixon's wife, Gaynell Dixon, told Thrasher that his last words to her were a prescient warning to the people of Alabama.

“We messed up, we let our guard down,” Dixon said, according to Thrasher. “Please tell everybody to be careful. This is real, and if you get diagnosed, get help immediately.”

Thrasher said his friend was exposed to the virus at a social gathering “with a couple of guys” that was hosted outside about two weeks ago.

Thrasher said he was unsure how many people attended, but he said he knew of two other men who attended the meetup and tested positive.

Thrasher said he treated Dixon for early COVID-19 symptoms a few days after the social gathering. As his condition worsened, the former senator was placed on a ventilator, according to Thrasher

Dixon’s wife, Gaynell also tested positive for COVID-19 last week and is still recovering, Thrasher said.

According to Thrasher, Dixon’s two daughters contracted the virus earlier this year, but have since recovered and have not been reinfected since their parents' diagnosis.

Dixon, a Republican, represented Alabama Senate District 25, which covers Montgomery, Ellmore, and Crenshaw counties, from 1983 up until his retirement in 2010.

Before his Senate service, Dixon was a member of the Alabama House of Representatives from 1978 to 1982, and a council member of the Montgomery City Council from 1975 to 1978.

In a statement published in the “Alabama Daily News” on Dec. 7, Perry Hooper, a former state representative and member of the State Republican Executive Committee, wrote that he was “still in shock” over Dixon’s death.

“Larry, although not a Montgomery native, loved his adopted hometown as much as anyone,” Hooper said. “He devoted his life to service to this great city. He was a great legislator, a man of great moral character, and a devoted and loving husband and father.”

The Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, which issues licenses for medical practitioners, said Friday that they were “forever grateful” for Dixon's 35 years as executive director.

“He set an incredible example of service for us all. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Gaynell, and his family during this difficult time,” the board members said in a statement.

Dixon’s death came just hours after Alabama set state records for hospitalization rates and number of new COVID-19 cases.

As of Monday, the state has recorded almost 270,000 COVID-19 infections and 3,889 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

According to the dashboard, state residents have tested positive at a rate of 34.7% over the past seven days — one of the highest in the nation.

Thrasher added that Dixon was the “finest human being” whose last wish was to prevent more Alabamians from following his fate.

“He wanted to encourage people to be careful, wear a mask, don’t socially gather,” Thrasher said. “He said, ‘Let’s save some lives.’”

This story was originally published on NBC News.