Photo: @UVALaw (Twitter)
Nancy McFadden, a lawyer and an influential political advisor to Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown, sadly lost her tiring battle with ovarian cancer on Thursday, March 22nd 2018. She passed away at the age of 59 in her Sacramento home.
Governor Brown made a statement the following day, on March 23rd, stating – “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.” He went on to say that “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 his wife, Hillary Clinton, called McFadden a woman who “deeply believed in the power of politics to make a positive difference in people’s lives, and she did until the very end.”
About Nancy’s life
Nancy McFadden was born in Wilmington, Delaware, to William and Mary McFadden. At the age of 11, her parents divorced and her mother moved her and her younger brother to San Jose. “I was raised, for the most part, by a single mom who was a nurse. I had a mother who believed in her children and wanted both of us to be able to do whatever it was that we wanted to do,” said McFadden. She attended San Jose State University, where she was elected student body president and she later graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law.
The beginning of her political career
McFadden signed on to work for Governor brown in 2010, thanks to an arrangement made by Anne Gust Brown, the governor’s wife, as well as Maria Shriver, the former first lady of California and her predecessor. Her official title was executive secretary, although her job leaned more toward the position of chief of staff. McFadden was always close to Governor Brown’s side, assisting him in his travels and never shying away from exposing his powerful vision and negotiating with opposing interest groups and lawmakers. Over a seven-year period working alongside McFadden, insiders at the Washington Capitol stressed that McFadden always spoke with great motivation and strived to reach high in her efforts. Brown’s accomplishments speak for themselves – repair of California’s deficit state budget, implementation of laws to combat climate change, and several others on the subjects of transportation and criminal justice; however, they would not have been made possible without the efforts and guidance of McFadden. She was his administration team’s relentless leader. “She never gave up, in work or in life,” said Dana Williamson, a top political advisor on Brown’s administration. “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,” added Williamson.
In 1991, McFadden was a junior associate at a law firm based in Washington. One of the firm’s partners, Warren Christopher, offered her advice on going into politics and joining Bill Clinton’s campaign run for president of the United States. At the time, Clinton was governor of Arkansas. In 1992, she was assigned the position of Clinton’s deputy political director. She was also involved in handling some of the campaign’s most unpredictable moments, including an affair accusation made by Gennifer Flowers. After Clinton won the presidential election, McFadden, along with a group of other young members of the staff, made their way into Washington D.C. There, McFadden became a key player between the United States Department of Justice, under the guidance of Attorney General Janet Reno, and the White House. Later, she served as general counsel for the United States Department of Transportation and then she went on to work as deputy chief of staff to former vice president Al Gore, for a period of two years.
Overcoming conflicts of interest
In 2001, when George W. Bush won the presidential election over Al Gore, McFadden moved to Sacramento. It was there that she began to advise Governor Gary Davis on the aftermath following the state’s electricity crisis. In 2003, when Davis was overthrown, a senior vice president for public affairs position at Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation was made available. This position would prove to be a political conflict for McFadden, as it raised conflict of interest issues in her standing by the governor’s side. Later, McFadden would go on to work for Governor Brown. Very soon, McFadden and Brown developed great respect for one another and mutual understanding unlike anything Brown had with his other staff members. “She completely won over his trust,” said Mrs. Brown, the governor’s wife. Until her death, McFadden was one of the longest-serving members on Governor Brown’s administration team. “She was the fulcrum of the administration — a one-woman mission control center for every major effort and everything of consequence that was achieved over the past seven years,” wrote Steven Maviglio, a Sacramento political strategist and friend of McFadden. Members of the administration team called her a loyal member of the team, who made a tremendous impact in everything that she did and always fought for what she believed in.
Taking the time to focus on her health
In 2001, McFadden underwent chemotherapy sessions and surgery for her ovarian cancer diagnosis. She was cancer-free until the year 2014. “Over the past four years, I have been able to manage both the cancer and the demands of my job — and our track record speaks for itself. I now have to devote more attention to managing my healthcare and recuperating from recent surgery,” said McFadden, in a statement made in January of 2018 before she took time off to concentrate on her health. She added that she was grateful to the governor, his wife, and his entire administration team for their endless support and she looked forward to adding to what they had already accomplished in the year to come.
Ovarian cancer symptoms can be rather difficult to recognize and only around 20% of cases are diagnosed at an early stage. Sadly, it is a cruel disease that results in over 14,000 deaths per year, one of which was the passing of 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,” said Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. Friends of McFadden portrayed her to be a kind and loving woman. She was passionate about her life and her loved ones, just as much as she was about her work. Her colleagues recall her as being a woman who, despite her far outreach and presence, gave credit and celebrated the accomplishments of her team as a whole.
She was known for her discretion, loyalty, and her great sense of humor. Her speech to the San Jose State graduation class of 2014 provided a glimpse into her way of thinking and beliefs – something she was best known for. “Climb the mountain not to plant the flag but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, and not so the world can see you,” she said, quoting a speech by David McCullough Jr. “I hope you take a pause every so often and I wish you so much more than luck,” she concluded.