Missouri Rep. Rory Ellinger dies at age 72

After being wheeled in, State Representative Rory Ellinger stands to acknowledge the room full of friends and colleagues who came to watch the signing of Missouri House Bill 1320 - which protects the rights of nursing mothers - on April 3, 2014, at University City Hall. Ellinger died Wednesday, April 9, 2014 following a battle with liver cancer, colleagues said. He was 72.

After being wheeled in, State Representative Rory Ellinger stands to acknowledge the room full of friends and colleagues who came to watch the signing of Missouri House Bill 1320 - which protects the rights of nursing mothers - on April 3, 2014, at University City Hall. Ellinger died Wednesday, April 9, 2014 following a battle with liver cancer, colleagues said. He was 72. Photo by The Associated Press.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri state Rep. Rory Ellinger, whose legislation addressing nursing women was signed into law last week, died Wednesday following a battle with liver cancer, colleagues said. He was 72.

Ellinger's death was announced in the state House by Minority Leader Jake Hummel and in the state Senate by Sen. Joe Keaveny, with whom he shared an apartment in Jefferson City.

Ellinger, a Democrat from St. Louis County, had announced he would not seek re-election because of his health and was not at the Capitol recently. Ellinger's failing health spurred quick action by the Republican-led Missouri Legislature to pass the bill that Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon signed into law last Thursday in the lawmaker's hometown of University City.

Under the newly approved law, nursing mothers can be excused from jury duty with a written note from a doctor. It also bars local ordinances restricting breast-feeding in places where mothers and children otherwise are allowed and states that breast-feeding in public or private does not count as sexual conduct.

Ellinger was too weak to walk or talk during the bill signing ceremony. His wife, Linda Locke, read a statement in which Ellinger shared a "plea to set aside personal differences and ideological conflicts."

The House and Senate each observed a moment of silence Wednesday. Nixon ordered flags lowered to half-staff in St. Louis County and the Capitol's home of Cole County.

"His family is heartbroken, as are we," said Hummel, D-St. Louis.

The governor said in a statement said that even as Ellinger's health declined, he worked to help Missouri residents.

"Rory Ellinger dedicated his passion, his energy and his career to helping lift all people up to their highest potential, and ensuring that we can all stand on equal ground and move together toward a brighter future," Nixon said

Ellinger first was elected to the Missouri House in 2010. Twice previously he sought election to the chamber, losing a 1972 election by 870 votes and a 1984 Democratic primary. Ellinger was press secretary for Tom Eagleton when he was Missouri's lieutenant governor. According to his biography, Ellinger was a bodyguard for Martin Luther King Jr. and marched in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery.

Associated Press writer Jordan Shapiro contributed to this report.

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