Former North Coast state Sen. Pat Wiggins died early Thursday after a long illness, and tributes poured in from friends and public officials for the Democrat who overcame a hearing disability during a 14-year career in politics.
Wiggins, who also served on the Santa Rosa City Council and in the state Assembly, was 73. She died at an assisted living facility in Forestville.
"Pat lived life to the fullest," said Guy Conner of Santa Rosa, Wiggins' husband of 30 years. "As a parent, friend and public servant, Pat's considerable talents and vivacious personality leave the people she touched far better off."
Rue Furch of Sebastopol, a longtime friend and former Sonoma County planning commissioner, said she and Conner sat with Wiggins Wednesday night, knowing it was likely the "last chance we got to say goodbye."
"It was just extremely peaceful," Furch said. "That was all we hoped for."
The cause of Wiggins' death was not disclosed. Nor was there ever a public explanation of an odd pattern of behavior that surfaced in 2009 prior to her decision not to seek re-election the following year.
A close friend declined to describe Wiggins' illness, saying it had been "kept private by the family."
Endowed with a keen mind, an engaging nature and a commitment to her principles, Wiggins entered public office in the mid-1990s and became a leader of the local Democratic Party's liberal faction.
"She loved to serve the community," said Marty Roberts of Sebastopol, a close friend who recalled that Conner and Wiggins were among the founders of Concerned Citizens for Santa Rosa in the 1980s, when Santa Rosa's growth was an issue and the City Council had a "conservative" tilt, Roberts said.
Wiggins lost her first bid for a council seat in 1992 but won two years later, launching a career marked by her advocacy for the concept of "smart growth."
"She many times said, &‘This was the work I was born to do,'" Roberts said.
North Coast Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, Senate President pro tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, were among those paying homage to Wiggins.
State Sen. Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa, who succeeded Wiggins in both the Assembly and Senate, adjourned the Senate floor session Thursday in Wiggins' memory.
"She was not only my former colleague on the Santa Rosa City Council, she was my friend and my hero and really my older sister because everywhere Pat went, I seemed to follow," Evans said on the Senate floor.
Wiggins was "the vanguard of a new progressive movement in our community, one that I've been very grateful to represent myself," Evans said.
Evans revealed that Wiggins faced "profound difficulties" during her six years in the Assembly and four years in the Senate.
"She was almost completely deaf," Evans said. "Although she didn't make a big deal of it, she had a very, very difficult time hearing anything, and she mostly read lips, and that's how she understood what people were saying to her."
Michael Allen of Santa Rosa, a former legislative aide to Wiggins, said on his Facebook page: "It always amazed me that the person who could hear the worst listened the best. She would listen to anyone and she would help anyone."