Flags at the California state Capitol are flying at half-staff in honor of the most influential aide to Gov. Jerry Brown since he returned to the office. The governor’s staff announced that his top aide, Nancy McFadden, died last night of cancer.
In a statement, Brown called her “the best chief of staff a governor could ever ask for.”
“Everything that happened in the Brown administration, she was one of the chief architects,” says political strategist Dana Williamson, who served as Brown’s cabinet secretary under McFadden. “From getting us out of a $29 billion budget deficit to passing a water bond and the Rainy Day fund, to the cap-and-trade program, everything single that Gov. Jerry Brown did, Nancy was a huge part of.”
When Brown traveled to China last June on a climate change tour, his chief of staff stayed behind to negotiate the state’s $125 billion budget with the Legislature.
McFadden started in politics by joining Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, leaving a law practice in Washington, D.C. She became a top staff member first in the Department of Justice, then the Department of Transportation, Vice President Al Gore, Gov. Gray Davis, and the utility PG&E, before joining Brown’s staff in 2011.
Statements from California lawmakers poured in after the announcement of her death.
State Senate leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) called McFadden “hands-down the hardest-working and smartest person in our state Capitol,” who “played a leading role in every major accomplishment” of the administration.
Republican Senate leader Pat Bates said McFadden was “one of California's most accomplished public servants.”
Former California First Lady Maria Shriver called her “wicked smart, wicked loyal, and wicked kind.”
Williamson also remembers a lighter side.
“She would always go out of her way to write a kind note, send someone flowers, and she liked to dance,” Williamson says. “And sometimes she’d just do it in the middle of the hallway.”
After a dozen years in remission, McFadden spent the past four years treating a recurrence of ovarian cancer, while continuing to work at the Capitol until earlier this year.