The former business executive and Republican politician was remembered as "such a light" after he died while hospitalized with COVID-19

By Nicholas Rice and Adam Carlson
July 30, 2020 01:29 PM
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Herman Cain's friends, colleagues and others are remembering the 2012 Republican presidential candidate following his death this week while hospitalized for the novel coronavirus.

In a reflection of a decades-long career that stretched from food companies to media and conservative politics, Cain was mourned by lawmakers as well as TV hosts.

Dan Calabrese, a longtime friend who ran Cain's website, tells PEOPLE that he was "such an impact and such a light, certainly in our lives. ... You couldn’t have gotten to know a more pleasant person."

"This is such a partisan age and people get defined by where they stood on the political spectrum and I’m sure a lot of people will define Herman in that way. That was so much not who he was," Calabrese adds. "His favorite thing to do was to help people see a way forward in their lives."

George Sen. David Perdue, who was close friends with Cain, said in a statement to PEOPLE that he and wife Bonnie "are devastated to learn of the passing of one of our closest friends."

"Guided by faith, Herman grew up humbly and went on to become an accomplished business leader. He lived the American dream and aspired to share his success with others. Herman’s love for our country was unmatched, and he will be greatly missed. Our prayers are with Gloria and their family, and all of Herman’s friends and staff, as they mourn this huge loss," Perdue said.

President Donald Trump spoke effusively of Cain on Twitter (the same day other presidents had gathered at the funeral for Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon).

"He was a very special man, an American Patriot, and great friend," Trump wrote of Cain, adding that he had spoken with Cain's wife and children.

Herman Cain
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Utah Sen. Mitt Romney — who outlasted Cain in the 2012 Republican presidential primary and ultimately earned the party's nomination — posted a tribute on social media too, tweeting: "Saddened that Herman Cain—a formidable champion of business, politics and policy—has lost his battle with Covid. St. Peter will soon hear '999!' Keep up the fight, my friend."

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany similarly remembered Cain in a tweet on Thursday:

"Herman Cain embodied the American Dream and represented the very best of the American spirit. Our hearts grieve for his loved ones, and they will remain in our prayers at this time. We will never forget his legacy of grace, patriotism, and faith."

Cain was a major supporter of President Donald Trump and of his re-election campaign, including attending Trump's controversial Oklahoma rally last month amid the pandemic.

(Cain, who was photographed at the event not wearing a mask, was hospitalized not long after the rally; though his team believes he was infected during other travels and stress that he took coronavirus seriously.)

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Fox News host Sean Hannity honored his late friend on social media, writing, "I’m heartbroken at the news about my dear friend Herman Cain. He brought joy, happiness, light & his signature smile & laugh to all. A great American Patriot who loved this country. All our Love & prayers to his family, as he enters God’s Kingdom and the mansion prepared for him."

"I’m very saddened to learn of the passing of my former boss, Herman Cain," Cain's former communications director, Ellen Carmichael, wrote in her own tweet.

"He was a giant of a person in ways that people who would choose to see him merely as a caricature could never understand," she said in another.

Georgia Rep. Doug Collins expressed his sympathy as well, posting, "Extremely saddened to hear that Herman Cain has passed away. He was a proud Georgian, a true statesman, and a strong conservative voice. He will be deeply missed."

Herman Cain
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Cain died about a month after he became sick with the novel coronavirus disease, his team announced on Thursday morning. He was 74 and is survived by his wife, children and grandchildren.

He had spent most of July getting treated for COVID-19 in an Atlanta-area hospital. His team said early this month that he tested positive on June 29.

Cain's representatives said he began showing symptoms on July 1 and he was then hospitalized. Earlier this week, they said he was still in the hospital and was “being treated with oxygen for his lungs.”

"We’re heartbroken, and the world is poorer: Herman Cain has gone to be with the Lord," reads an update posted to his official website.

"We knew when he was first hospitalized with COVID-19 that this was going to be a rough fight," Calabrese wrote in that update on Thursday. "He had trouble breathing and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. We all prayed that the initial meds they gave him would get his breathing back to normal, but it became clear pretty quickly that he was in for a battle."

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