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Chris Battle, a former Capitol Hill and administration aide who went on to a career in the private sector, died Thursday morning at age 45.
A partner with the Adfero Group since 2007, Battle fought kidney cancer for four years. He and his wife, Dena, a principal at the lobbying firm Capitol Counsel, detailed his struggle with the disease in a blog called The Kidney Cancer Chronicles, which was at times funny and irreverent and also heartbreaking.
“It’s true that the last two months have been rougher than expected. Last month I noticed that the slice in my golf swing was back. The dancer I wanted to win on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ didn’t win,” Chris Battle deadpanned on the blog on Sept. 21, 2012. “The cancer stuff hasn’t been great, either, but all we can do is keep pushing forward. I’ve finally completed my rounds of radiation therapy. There appears to be a hole burned in my back ... it looks like a deformed Krispy Kreme donut.”
Taking a serious tone at the end of the post, he reflected on his wife and daughters: “Love holds us all together as we struggle through this as a family.”
Chris Battle’s former boss, then-Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., remembered his aide as a pioneer in digital communications, an innovator who brought his knack for humor-infused storytelling to his fight against cancer.
“He has been very open in sharing his struggles, his battle and what his family has been going through and has touched thousands upon thousands who have followed his blog,” Hutchinson said Thursday. “That is a real lasting legacy: his personal strength and sense of humor he demonstrated at a very difficult time.”
Hutchinson said Battle, then a newspaper reporter in Arkansas, covered his congressional campaign. “When I got elected, I said, ‘You wanna go to Washington?’” Hutchinson recalled. “He was just so incredibly talented as a writer and communicator.”
Jeff Mascott, Adfero’s managing partner, agreed that Battle’s gift with the written word had made him a celebrity of sorts in the kidney cancer community.
“Because Chris is such an amazing writer, and he and Dena have done so much research on their own, his blog has had a much larger impact than anybody realizes,” Mascott said.
Last year, while awaiting treatment at Johns Hopkins, Battle attracted the attention of other patients when a nurse called his name. “They had been reading his blog,” Mascott said.
Bringing people together, virtually, was nothing new for Battle.
On Capitol Hill, working for Hutchinson, Battle organized online town halls for the lawmaker. “This was before blogs or before social media,” said Mascott, who at the time worked for then-Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma at the House Republican Conference. “It was pretty revolutionary.”
After serving on Capitol Hill, Battle, like his boss Hutchinson, headed to the Drug Enforcement Administration, where Battle was director of congressional and public affairs.
Hutchison became the first undersecretary for border and transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security, and Battle was the director of public affairs and then chief of staff for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In 2006, when Hutchinson ran for governor, he tapped Battle as his campaign manager. Hutchinson lost that race to Democrat Mike Beebe.
“His sense of humor is a little bit subtle; he was most comfortable writing and he could write hilarious stories and you could see his sense of humor very quickly in his writing,” Hutchinson said. “But when you got him in a quiet moment, you could sure see his personal sense of humor. One time, he was telling the story of getting into a fist fight. You just can’t visualize this skinny little guy getting into a fist fight. It just always ends in a funny story.”
Battle also started a homeland security blog called Security Debrief. “Among his long list of victories and achievements was founding Security Debrief,” wrote the blog’s Justin Hienz on Thursday. “In honor and tribute to his vision, we will continue to provide this blog as a humble testament to a great man.”
This week on The Kidney Cancer Chronicles, Dena Battle wrote of telling the couple’s oldest daughter, who is 9, that her father would not get better. “We get daily e-mails, asking for updates, reminding us of your support and prayers,” Dena Battle wrote on Tuesday. “We’re grateful. The truth is that any update would be inaccurate. Our circumstances change by the moment. And most moments aren’t fit for sharing.”
Chris Battle is survived by his wife and two daughters, Kate and Josie, as well as his parents.
The family requests, in lieu of flowers, donations for kidney cancer research be made at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center.
Donations made in his name will go toward Dr. Hans Hammers’ research on kidney cancer.
“It’s been pretty extraordinary the impact Chris has had,” Mascott said. “Whether it’s been on Capitol Hill or DHS or with us, there’s just so many people along the way that he has mentored and invested in and who just really love him.”