Whether volunteering with a local mother’s club or overseeing studies for an independent government watchdog agency, Carole D’Elia was dedicated to making life better for people in her community and throughout California, say friends and colleagues.
D’Elia, executive director of the Little Hoover Commission, died Dec. 16, three months after being diagnosed with cancer. She was 55.
“She was a remarkable person who cared deeply about the commission’s work and inspired all around her to reach higher,” Pedro Nava, chairman of the Little Hoover Commission, said in a written statement. “She was thoughtful, considerate and caring. Her zeal was perfectly paired with the practical.”
The commission is an independent state oversight agency charged with investigating and preparing reports on state government operations and policy. Based on its findings, the commission makes recommendations to the governor and legislature on ways to improve government efficiency and services.
Long active in her Greenhaven-Pocket neighborhood and her church, St. Anthony Parish, D’Elia was a community volunteer and organizer before she was hired by the Little Hoover Commission as a research analyst in 2001. She went on to serve as project manager and deputy executive director before becoming executive director in 2013.
During her tenure with the commission, colleagues noted, D’Elia tackled some of the most complicated issues facing state government, including pensions, water quality, healthcare and long-term care, infrastructure and spending. She developed a particularly deep knowledge and passion for energy and bond spending issues.
Her work included the commission’s report “Solving California’s Corrections Crisis: Time is Running Out,” which was cited in the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Plata, which held that California’s overcrowded prison system violated prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights.
“It was my take that the job was a good fit because she was so passionate about making things better and improving things,” said longtime friend Pat Clark.
The two women became acquainted in the early 1990s, when both were mothers of young children involved in a play group that met at local parks. Clark proposed starting a community newspaper, and D’Elia, who had a degree in journalism, immediately offered to cover youth sports for what became the Pocket News, a twice-a-month publication.
“She was the first to volunteer,” Clark said.
She was not the kind of person who talked a lot about her faith, but her faith was a deep-down motivation for all that she did.
Rich Fowler, St. Anthony Parish social justice committee member
D’Elia used the knowledge and experience gleaned from her work with the Little Hoover Commission as a community volunteer. She served on Sacramento County’s Juvenile Justice and Juvenile Delinquency Prevention commissions, and was a volunteer coordinator for Get on the Bus, a program that provides bus trips for children to visit their incarcerated mothers. She also worked with Family Promise, which assists families who are homeless.
Rich Fowler said he worked with D’Elia on St. Anthony Parish’s social justice committee, which supports the Get on the Bus program as one of it’s community outreach efforts.
“She was not the kind of person who talked a lot about her faith, but her faith was a deep-down motivation for all that she did,” he said.
Fowler noted that D’Elia worked with Sacramento Area Congregations Together on programs to support youth and help keep them out of the juvenile justice system.
“She was very bright,” Fowler said. “She had extremely good political judgment. She was really insightful about politics inside the church and in the broader community. She had extremely good judgment about what was doable and what wasn’t doable.”
Terry Florian, a longtime friend, said D’Elia was always quick to volunteer for tasks, and often did things behind the scenes.
“She was one of those people who could take on a project and run with it,” Florian said.
D’Elia’s daughter, Amanda, said her mother was always active, and her work in the community and with the Little Hoover Commission seemed to go hand in hand.
Carole D’Elia was born Nov. 12, 1962 in Norwalk, Conn., to Thomas and Irene Murphy. She was the youngest in a family of five girls. The family moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., when she was age 6 and she considered that her home state, said her sister Karen Murphy O’Brien.
D’Elia graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in journalism and followed her older sister to Dallas, where she landed a job as a reporter for the Dallas Morning News.
D’Elia was a technology writer and eventually left reporting to go into marketing. She went to work for Recognition Equipment, where she met her future husband, John D’Elia, and the couple moved to Sacramento.
D’Elia enjoyed the outdoors and had just returned from a trip Yellowstone National Park with family members in September when she was diagnosed with cancer, her sister said.
D’Elia is survived by her husband, John, daughter, Amanda, and son, Adam D’Elia, all of Sacramento.
A memorial service is scheduled at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Anthony Parish, 660 Florin Road, Sacramento. The memorial will include a Mass followed by a reception.