Rebecca Roeber's colleagues in the Missouri General Assembly had been looking forward to her return to the State Capitol next year. The Republican from Lee's Summit, who represented the 34th House District, was seriously injured in a March car accident and returned home just last week from a rehabilitation facility.

Instead, lawmakers are in shock after Roeber, 61, died in her sleep Tuesday morning.

State Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee's Summit, said his wife called him sobbing with the news.

“That's one of those things, she'd gone through so many surgeries and the worst stuff was behind her,” Cierpiot said. “She still had a long road ahead, but everybody thought she was well on her way.”

“Just a warm person – great smile and a great laugh. We'd go to events and different festivals, and she had a touch with people that I don't have.”

Rep. Bill Kidd, R-Independence, said he had visited her several times in the hospital and in rehab.

“She was looking good and moving forward,” he said. “She was positive and working hard.”

Roeber, a former teacher in Raytown, was first elected in 2014 and was in her third term. Her 34th district includes the southeast portion of Lee's Summit, generally south of Colbern Road, as well as Greenwood extending east to Missouri 7 and south to the Jackson County border.

Her accident happened March 25 on U.S. 50 in Morgan County. Roeber had been driving to Jefferson City when she fell asleep at the wheel and her car crossed the center line and collided with an oncoming car. The collision left her with numerous broken bones, but from her rehabilitation bed last month she announced her plans to run for re-election in 2020.

Ciepiot and Kidd, like other state lawmakers, recall Roeber's passion for school reform. Before her election, she taught for 17 years, and she had been serving as chair of the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education.

“She was a champion for school choice – that was the hot topic on her desk – and an advocate for the kids,” Kidd said.

Former state Rep. Ira Anders, D-Independence, said he and Roeber shared a passion for education issues, being former teachers.

“We always talked civilly,” Anders said. “We laughed together, and we disagreed with each other sometimes, including charter schools. We could not come to an agreement on that.”

“Rebecca was someone who cared first and foremost about children,” said Rep. Jon Patterson, R-Lee's Summit. “You could see that when she was with her grandson. You could see that in the way she dedicated her political life to being a tireless advocate for children in the public school system.”

“Rebecca was someone who spoke her mind, and you always knew what she was thinking. People appreciated that about her. She was a fun, outspoken lady, and I will miss her greatly.”

Rep. Jeff Coleman, R-Grain Valley, said he will most remember her strong belief in helping Missouri's children.

“Her dedication and passion for education, especially for those children who are in low performing schools, was truly inspiring,” Coleman said. “Even though we did not always agree on certain things, she was kind and respectful. I will miss her and her positive presence at the Capitol.”

“A lot of us have the heart for education reform, but she also had the credentials,” Cierpiot said. “We're going to miss that a lot.”