Capitol Alert

Colleagues and friends remember Nancy McFadden, late chief of staff to Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown discusses a bill with advisor Nancy McFadden, left, at his Capitol office in Sacramento in September 2014. McFadden, the chief of staff to Brown, died Thursday.
Gov. Jerry Brown discusses a bill with advisor Nancy McFadden, left, at his Capitol office in Sacramento in September 2014. McFadden, the chief of staff to Brown, died Thursday. AP file

Nancy McFadden, who rose through the ranks in Washington and Sacramento to become Gov. Jerry Brown’s chief of staff during his final two terms in office, died Thursday night following a battle with ovarian cancer at the age of 59.

She was an accomplished strategist who played an influential role in shaping the policies of the top officials she worked for, many of whom paid tribute to her in statements.

Gov. Jerry Brown

Nancy was the best chief of staff a governor could ever ask for. She understood government and politics, she could manage, she was a diplomat and she was fearless. She could also write like no other. Nancy loved her job and we loved her doing it. This is truly a loss for me, for Anne, for our office, for Nancy’s family and close friends – and for all of California."

Former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton

Nancy McFadden was a truly extraordinary public servant thanks to her brilliant mind, big heart, and uncanny ability to get things done. She brought those gifts to Washington for eight years and then to Sacramento, working alongside Governor Brown. Nancy was a fine person who deeply believed in the power of politics to make a positive difference in people’s lives, and she did until the very end. Hillary and I were proud to call her a colleague and friend.”

Former Vice President Al Gore

Nancy McFadden was an extraordinary public servant whose wise counsel I relied upon for much of the last 25 years, including when she was my invaluable Deputy Chief of Staff in the White House. In more recent years, her service to the people of California in the Governor's office to has been so important to the historic success of Jerry Brown's leadership of our largest state. She was also a dear friend, whose commitment to fighting for solutions to the climate crisis and to core principles of American Democracy was unflagging. I admired her greatly and am deeply saddened by her passing. I will miss her deeply.

Former California First Lady Maria Shriver

Nancy McFadden was one of a kind Wicked smart, wicked loyal, and wicked kind. She served her country and her state and all her friends. Her loss is indescribable. I won’t be able to thank her for all she did for the women of the state, the disadvantaged, those living on the margins. In short, everyone benefited from Nancy’s mind and heart. May god bless her, her brother and all who loved her.

John Podesta, former White House chief of staff

Nancy McFadden was one of the most remarkable people and one of the most principled public servants I have had the privilege of knowing. At the outset of the Clinton-Gore Administration, as a relatively young attorney in a senior position at the Department of Justice, Nancy taught us all that it was possible to uphold the independence and integrity of the Department while working with her colleagues in the White House and across government to move forward important policy initiatives on civil rights, community policing, reducing violence against women and gun safety.

During her tenure at Justice, the Department of Transportation and the White House, Nancy was always one of the people on the short list of calls you made if you knew you just had to get something done.

We served together at the White House when I was President Clinton’s Chief of Staff and she was Vice President Gore’s Deputy Chief of Staff. It’s pretty easy to get cross-wise in a White House three ring circus where the the Vice President is running for President, the First Lady is running for the Senate and the President is trying to get as much done as possible facing an obstinate Republican-led Congress. But we never did get cross-wise because Nancy had the grace and common sense to make all those gears mesh and maintained the loyalty admiration and respect of both the Clintons and the Gores.

I got to work officially with Nancy again when I joined the Obama White House,” and we worked closely together to coordinate federal-state response to the California drought and to further Governor Brown’s ambitious climate and clean energy agenda. In 2016, Nancy was a proud supporter and invaluable advisor to Hillary and to me in the President campaign.

My sweetest memories of Nancy are not about political battles fought or policy successes achieved, but of hiking with her and my wife Mary at our place in Truckee in those peaceful, tranquil mountains in the State and country she so loved.

Former Gov. Gray Davis

Sharon and I join Governor Brown and Ann Brown, along with those who have served in our administrations, in expressing our heartfelt sorrow in the passing of Nancy McFadden.

Nancy was in a class of her own. Her professional acumen was outsized only by one other trait, her humanity. Apart from the many contributions she made to our Country and State, Nancy's real legacy is etched in the lives of those she mentored. Indeed a whole new generation of leaders is now among us because of her willingness to teach while she led.

We will always be thankful for the time we had with Nancy. Although we will miss her greatly, I pray we can all find peace in knowing that she is now in the grace of God.

Lynn Schenk, former chief of staff to Davis

Schenk went to Washington, D.C., in 2000 to look for talent to hire and was immediately impressed by McFadden, who was "the brightest star in a galaxy of stars." After bringing McFadden to Sacramento to work for Davis, "she quickly became my right arm," Schenk said in an interview. When Brown returned to the governor's office, Schenk told him that McFadden was one of the people that he absolutely had to hire, because of "her intellect, and her dignity, and her ethics, and even her feistiness."

"She stood up for what she believed in," Schenk said. "She loved what she was doing, up until the last minute. And isn’t that something for all of us? That we should go doing what we love."

Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee

California lost a great leader today, and I lost a dear friend. Nancy McFadden was a one-of-a-kind public servant: funny, generous, whip-smart, and fiercely dedicated to improving other people’s lives. From Washington, D.C. to California, she spent her entire career fighting for the fairness and opportunity every American deserves. She once wrote, ‘I persist so every girl who gets knocked down knows she can get back up again stronger than ever.’ There’s no question that our country is stronger because of Nancy’s leadership and tireless work on behalf of the millions of people she served. My prayers are with Nancy’s brother, Governor Brown and Anne Gust Brown, and all those who had the fortune of knowing her.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom

Jennifer and I offer our deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of one of the most gifted and accomplished public servants to have served California, Nancy McFadden.

Nancy carried the burden of her enormous responsibility with spirit, verve, and humility. Her tenacity and determination was contagious. She was brilliant, kind, and dedicated. She was simply the best at what she did.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra

Today we say a sad goodbye to a dear friend, Nancy McFadden. We have lost a beloved companion, leader, and for those who understood her reach, a true force of nature. Nancy, you gave our beloved California more than your fair share. Rest in Peace.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla

Today, we mourn the loss of Nancy McFadden, one of California's most prominent, fearless and effective public servants.

Nancy's fingerprints are on every major accomplishment achieved during the Brown Administration. This is also true for many of the major reforms to expand voting rights. She helped ensure the success of legislation to create the California Motor Voter program, the Voter's Choice Act, and to move up California’s primary.

In addition to her political savvy, Nancy was generous with her time and encouraged young people and women to pursue careers in public service. Her legacy will live on in the careers she's launched, the policies she championed and the people she mentored and inspired. California is better off because of her.

Angela and I send our condolences to Nancy's family, her colleagues, and all Californians whose lives were improved by her public service.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins

Nancy McFadden was hands-down the hardest-working and smartest person in our state Capitol. Her passing is not only a loss for her family, Governor Jerry Brown, and Anne Gust Brown, but also for all of California. She played a leading role in every major accomplishment during my time in the Legislature. The legacy she leaves behind will be cemented in every corner of our state. In her, the modern women’s movement had an ideal role model – simply put, she was a real-life wonder woman.

Senate Republican Leader Pat Bates

I am deeply saddened to learn of Nancy's passing as I admired her intellect and keen knowledge of public policy. She faithfully served the governor and the people of California with integrity. I send my deepest condolences to Nancy's family and friends as we mourn the loss of one of California's most accomplished public servants.

Assembly Republican Leader Brian Dahle

Nancy was a true and dedicated public servant. It is with great sadness that my wife, Megan, and I received news of her passing. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and loved ones.

Cassandra Walker Pye, state board president of California Women Lead

Nancy was the best and finest example of what happens when women take a seat at the governing table. She was smart and fearless but rarely took credit for the remarkable work she accomplished as a public servant. Nancy worked closely, over her public and private sector career, with just about everyone on the California Women Lead Board and I know I speak for all of us when I say we're going to miss her terribly - she was a champion for women and a cherished friend.

Allan Zaremberg, president and executive director of the California Chamber of Commerce

I am greatly saddened by the news of Nancy’s passing and extend my sincere condolences to her family and close friends. Nancy was an effective and gracious leader who used her tremendous talents to the benefit of our state. Nancy dedicated her life to public service and improving the quality of life for all Californians. I have a great deal of personal and professional respect for her. She was accessible, honest and a pleasure to work with. All of us at CalChamber will miss her.

Annie Notthoff, director of California advocacy for the National Resources Defense Council

Nancy McFadden’s passing marks a sad day for California and for pragmatic progress in the public arena. Since returning to California from Washington, DC nearly 20 years ago, Nancy has been a problem solver, with grace. My colleagues and I here at NRDC had the chance to work with her over the years on many issues—from clean energy to water conservation infrastructure funding, to climate policy, public health and more, Nancy was able to see a path forward, by listening, identifying common threads and pushing everyone’s bottom lines. Just last spring we laughed about needing to “pull a rabbit out of the hat” to figure out how to secure a 2/3 vote to extend part of California’s climate program, not knowing quite how that could be achieved. But not more than 8 weeks later, the votes came together and she was gracious in thanking people for “always being constructive and honest and never giving up.” Nancy never gave up. I’m going to think of today and the much-needed rain that California is enjoying this week as a sign of the sky smiling on Nancy. Our hearts go out to her friends and family.

Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council

California lost a great leader with the passing of Nancy McFadden and we lost a good friend. Throughout her career and, in particular, during her time as Gov. Brown's chief of staff, Nancy devoted herself to improving California, taking on our most difficult challenges and finding solutions where many thought none could be found. She was a leader, a fighter, a friend. We will miss her terribly and remember her fondly, and we extend our deepest condolences to her family.

Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council

Today, the State Building and Construction Trades Council family mourns the loss of a dear friend and ally of working people, NancyMcFadden, Gov. Jerry Brown’s chief of staff. We express our deepest condolences to her family, to Governor Brown, to her staff and to her friends. From water, transportation funding and housing, to climate change and High Speed Rail, her ability, her political acumen and her leadership were driving forces on these and all other accomplishments under this administration. Nancy was dedicated to this governor and his vision, and to serving the working people of California. She has left her mark on history. We will remember her with fondness, respect, love and appreciation. May she rest in peace.

Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California

This morning the State and the people of California lost one of our angels. Nancy McFadden was a true and dedicated champion for our LGBTQ community, for women and for all Californians. She was a formidable force for good — one who stopped at nothing to push the moral arc of the Golden State toward justice. Most of all though, Nancy was as loyal and fierce an ally as our community could have possibly hoped for. The lives of LGBTQ children, of transgender women who face violence on our streets and in our communities and of all LGBTQ people were made better because of the key role Nancy played advocating for us within California's government and business community. Our sincere condolences go out to Governor Brown and the First Lady and to everyone who knew and loved Nancy. May she rest in power.

Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento

Nancy was one of the smartest and most determined public servants I have known. I, along with so many others, relied on her expertise, experience, and sound judgement. She shaped some of the most important policy successes in California and leaves behind an incomparable legacy. Nancy will always be remembered for her passion and dedication. She will be dearly missed.

Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco

California has lost a giant. Nancy McFadden was a true force of nature: one of the most effective, passionate, and tenacious public servants I've ever worked with. We are diminished by her passing, and my prayers are with her family, friends, and co-workers.

Rabbi Meyer H. May, executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

She was loyal and trusted personal friend and champion of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance. She never missed an opportunity to advance our mission with the Governor, who during his first term 40 years ago, bet on the success of the Center when it was just a fledgling institution. Her door was always open to us as was her heart and passion!

On behalf of the 400,000 families of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, we extend our deepest condolences to her family and loved ones. We also extend our heartfelt condolences to the Governor and his wife, as well as her colleagues, who lost a talented, dedicated friend and public servant, whose hand was seen in most of the Governor’s successes in Sacramento.

Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of The California Endowment

The passing of Nancy McFadden comes at the end of a trying and difficult week in Sacramento. Nancy was a friend and ally in the struggle for health and justice for all Californians. Nancy’s life and our loss remind us that even as we mourn, we must re-dedicate ourselves to rising up together as one.