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."