Former Sen. James Jeffords, whose exit from the GOP gave Democrats temporary control of the Senate, died Monday, a former aide said. The Vermont senator was 80 years old and living in a retirement community in Washington.

Jeffords stunned the political establishment when he switched to become an independent in 2001.

"Jeffords' decision caused a national uproar," reports Vermont Public Radio's Steve Zind. However, he tells our Newscast Desk, Jeffords' "long-standing moderate-to-liberal views and his work on education and environmental issues were a comfortable fit for many of his constituents who continued to support him."

(Jeffords is not alone in his defection, as NPR's Alan Greenblatt noted in this 2012 roundup.)

Republicans were able to reclaim control of the Senate 18 months later.

Jeffords did not seek re-election in 2006, "citing his and his wife's health problems," The Boston Globe reports. His wife died in 2007 after battling cancer, the paper notes.

Jeffords had a career spanning more than three decades. The Globe has this background:

"He won election to the House in 1974 as a Republican. The post-Watergate year was a strong one for Democrats nationally, but Jeffords was running as Vermont was just beginning his shift from a century of solid Republicanism to its current status as among the most liberal states."The Rutland native, a graduate of Yale and Harvard Law School, already had won statewide office as attorney general and was from a well-known Vermont Republican family. His father, Olin Jeffords, had been chief justice of the state Supreme Court."Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit