Capitol Alert

Ex-Schwarzenegger communications aide Julie Soderlund dies at 38

Julie Soderlund shares a laugh with former President George H. W. Bush during a trip to China on Nov. 15, 2005. Soderlund was there as a communications aide to then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Julie Soderlund shares a laugh with former President George H. W. Bush during a trip to China on Nov. 15, 2005. Soderlund was there as a communications aide to then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Office of the Governor

​Julie Soderlund, a communications specialist who worked for former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carly Fiorina and other Republican causes ​in a career spent largely in Sacramento, died Thursday evening after a nine-month battle with melanoma. She was 38.

Soderlund was known at the Capitol as a cheerful, skilled and respected communicator, working in Schwarzenegger’s press office and helping with his political pursuits outside the government. She took a job with Sacramento-based Republican political consultants Marty Wilson and Beth Miller, and led the press efforts for Fiorina’s 2010 campaign against U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

“What I remember most about her is her laugh,” Miller said Friday. “She just always embraced (politics) with enthusiasm and fun. We laughed through it all.”

In 2011, Soderlund took a job as a vice president with Philip Morris International, for which she worked extensively in Europe and Asia.

As word of Soderlund’s death spread Friday, hundreds offered tributes on social media, including Schwarzenegger. “We’ve lost a great, strong woman. Julie was a jewel – she made all of us smile while kicking ass at her job & life,” the former governor said on Twitter.

Amanda Fulkerson, a former spokeswoman for Republicans at the Capitol, said Soderlund was “an amazing mentor and advocate for women in California politics.” Soderlund, she said, “took a chance on me, taught me and trusted me when I had very little experience. She’s paved the way for and held out her hand to lift up several young women.”

When her cancer was diagnosed in August, Soderlund began a blog shared widely on social media, tackling her “detour,” as she put it, with characteristic positivity and humor.

I have gained one oncologist for every week since starting this journey. Hopefully this does not become a thing.

Julie Soderlund’s blog

“He was mostly right (this is the first time I have ever wanted a doctor to be wrong). He’s a smart guy,” she quipped about her diagnosis, which gave her a 20 percent chance of survival. “I am gearing up for the fight of, and for, my life … and I fully intend to LIVE every second of it.”

A few days later, she wrote, “I have gained one oncologist for every week since starting this journey. Hopefully this does not become a thing.”

Soderlund chronicled in detail the series of experimental treatments she underwent, as well as her doubts as they repeatedly failed her, dubbing herself Debbie Downer.

“I am terrified to find out what is happening in my body,” she wrote in November. “How will I respond if I hear tomorrow that the tumors are growing? How much harder will it become to endure my day-to-day, which is already pretty tough?”

Soderlund increasingly relied on her faith to sustain her through difficult times. In her final post on March 9, she said, “We are praying for a miracle, for a treatment that works. As someone said to me a few months ago, ‘don’t give up the day before the miracle happens.’ Amen.”

Soderlund was born in Newport Beach, grew up in Santa Barbara and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. Survivors include her husband, Erick; her father, Donald Dobie of Port Townsend, Wash.; her mother, Susan Michels Anderson, and her husband, Randy Anderson, of Great Falls, Mont.; and her brother Michael Dobie of Seattle.

Her friends and colleagues remember her humor, faith and unwavering optimism.

“She was Julie up until the end,” Miller said. “She was very matter-of-fact about the disease. It was a very aggressive form of cancer, but she never gave up the fight or gave up hope.”

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