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Thumbnail image for Will.jpgWill Smith, chief of staff to Republican Sen. George Runner, died Monday night after he collapsed while playing basketball. He was 41.

Smith, who grew up in Weaverville and attended Sacramento State, first came to the Capitol as an Assembly Fellow.

In 1996, Smith joined Runner's Assembly staff. For the next 14 years, he worked in various capacities in Runner's Assembly and Senate offices, as well as for Runner's wife, former Assemblywoman Sharon Runner.

"He was just an incredibly loyal individual. He was loyal obviously to us, but he was loyal to his passions, to his faith," George Runner said. "He was loyal to his conservative convictions, but yet he did it in a way that no matter where you were and who you were you respected him."

Russell Lowery, chief of staff to the Senate Republican Caucus, said Smith's "unparalleled competence and affection and compassion for the people he worked with and the issues he worked on" earned him the reputation of one of the Capitol's best chiefs of staff.

"He constantly fielded job offers (from the private sector) and turned them down and counseled other Republican staff not to leave, not to take the money," Lowery said. "He genuinely believed that the policy he was pursuing would help people."

Smith is survived by his wife Anissa and four children; Lydia, Joshua, Julia and Caleb.

"We are devastated but we rejoice knowing that Will is home with Jesus at this very moment," Anissa Smith said in a written statement. "He lived his life on earth for Christ and now he will spend his eternity with Him."

*A previous version of this post stated that Smith started his career in the Capitol as an Assembly Fellow for Assemblyman George House. Smith worked as a staffer for House, but his initial fellowship was with Assemblyman Dean Andal.

Photo courtesy of Jana Saastad.

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