Former Republican Rep. Dan Benishek dies at 69

Former Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.), who served three terms in Congress before retiring at the end of 2016, died on Friday at the age of 69.

Benishek's family announced his death in a statement on Saturday, but did not mention a cause of death.

"We are heartbroken by the sudden loss of a loyal friend, a loving husband, a dedicated grandfather, and a tireless advocate for Northern Michigan. As a doctor and surgeon, Dan saved countless lives in our community," Benishek's family said in a statement shared on Twitter by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich).

"His work in Congress made a difference for veterans across the country and protected Michigan's natural wonders for years to come. He will always be remembered by his family and friends as a strong leader, a caring healer, and an unwavering patriot," his family added.

Benishek, who was known to many as "Dr. Dan," was first elected to represent Michigan's 1st congressional district in 2010 after winning the Republican primary by just 15 votes out of more than 100,000 ballots cast. He went on to beat state Rep. Gary McDowell (D) in the general election by 11 percentage points.

In September 2015, Benishek announced that he would retire from Congress at the end of 2016, making good on a promise he made during his first campaign to only serve three terms.

He had originally announced in March that he would run for another term despite his campaign vow, but ultimately reversed that decision in September, saying in a statement that he would focus his time on helping veterans, families and workers in Michigan, while also spending more time with his own family.

The Michigan Republican served on the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Veterans' Affairs committees, according to his family, helping to enact legislation that protected wilderness lands, championed reforms to VA hospitals and pushed for more accountability in veterans' health care.

Benishek was born in 1952 in Iron River, Michigan, according to his family, where he worked for his family's small business, the Iron River Hotel, until he was 18 years old.

He studied at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University Medical School, then worked as a general surgeon in the Upper Peninsula. He also worked part time at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center, where he cared for veterans throughout the region.

According to his family, Benishek spent the final years of his life with his family, and spending time at his camp in the Ottawa National Forest.

He is survived by his wife, Judy, five children and five grandchildren.

Huizenga, who served alongside Benishek in Michigan's congressional delegation, said the late congressman was "a man who cared about his community, state, and country."

"He was a cheerful advocate who fought with passion for common sense UP values. I am proud to call him a friend and he will be deeply missed. My heart goes out to his wife Judy, their family, and Team Benishek," Huizenga added.