Former Capital Tonight contributor Harold Cook, 61, passed away on Thursday in Marathon, Texas, leaving his friends and colleagues around the state saddened and shocked.

Cook, a Democratic strategist of multiple campaigns across three decades, was a mainstay on the Capitol scene and on social media: the slyest wit; the ever-present insight; and, often, the best trash talker in a league of well-known trash talkers.

When news spread of Cook’s death on Thursday morning, everyone had a Harold Cook story to tell: Onetime staffers — now seasoned state employees — who benefited from his wisdom. Activists who relied on his advice to pass bills during a multitude of legislative sessions. Friends who won, and lost, bets to him over drinks at local bars.

Anchor Karina Kling credits Cook with much of the early success of Capital Tonight, saying anyone who met Cook immediately came to appreciate his humor and wit.

“He was part of our program from the beginning and rarely missed a show,” Kling said. “He loved bickering back and forth with Republican Ted Delisi; yet, the two of them did it in a way that made people on the street stop and say how refreshing it was to see two people on opposite sides of the aisle get along.”

Cook battled through a stroke a couple of years ago but loved Capital Tonight so much he was back on the air in three weeks, despite some slight speech loss, Kling said.

“It’s because he loved doing it so much,” said Kling, who offered a video tribute to Cook on Thursday night. “He was a true friend and will be truly missed.”

Cook often played the Democrat foil to Matt Mackowiak’s or Delisi’s Republican viewpoint on various luncheon panels, talk shows and election night commentary.

“Harold was old school,” Mackowiak wrote on Twitter. “He was brilliant, funny, a storyteller and a historian. He was a mensch. Great fun to be with.”

The message from friends and colleagues, over and over about Cook, was just how adept he was at his job. How he made the politics of the Capitol and the state so easy to understand, and often how funny he was in the process.

“He knew how to do the hard work of strategy in a way that felt easier than it was,” said former state Sen. Kirk Watson. “That was because of his detailed thoughts about what was going on, and his sense of humor, which was always just under the surface.”

Former Rep. Eddie Lucio III was one of the first to post on Facebook, saying Cook was both a friend and an adviser, who helped him navigate his career in the legislature. Asked directly, Lucio called Cook a legend in Texas politics.

“Harold was smart, fun, and truly passionate about Texas,” Lucio said. “He was kind and took great care of those he worked with. I owe my first election to him, and he continued to help me throughout my career. I will always cherish his friendship.”

A statement issued by his family said Cook’s first political job was as an aide to former Rep. Debra Danburg, a Houston Democrat. He worked closely with Land Commissioner Garry Mauro and Secretary of State John Hannan, Jr., before serving in various roles, including director of the Senate’s Democratic caucus when it broke quorum in 2003.

The 11 senators spent 46 days in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to stop a vote on Voter ID.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa called Cook, the party’s onetime executive director in the late ‘90s, a true leader, unparalleled in his ability to get people to rally behind him. The party would miss him dearly, Hinojosa said.

“Harold had a truly magnetic personality — everyone who met him was charmed by his remarkably quick wit,” Hinojosa said. “He had a sense of humor that would fill a room and inspire all of us to find that balance between taking our values seriously but ourselves less so.”

Wayne Hamilton was the executive director of the Texas Republican Party at the same time Cook was the executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

“Our headaches were exactly the same, even if our issues were different. That’s how we became friends,” Hamilton said. “Any time we shared a meal together, we were merciless on each other. Anything was fair game. To think he’s gone makes me very sad.”