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Friends, family and colleagues memorialized longtime North Coast political leader Pat Wiggins as a fierce advocate, loyal ally and tireless worker, a politician who led with as much kindness as courage.

Wiggins died after a long illness on Aug. 15 at an assisted living facility in Forestville. She was 73.

About 250 people attended a celebration of her life Sunday at the Congregation Beth Ami Friedman Center in Santa Rosa, capped by a sing-along of John Lennon's song "Imagine" as joy-filled images of a smiling Wiggins and her friends played on a large video screen.

"The side of her that you saw – the compassion, the magnetic smile, the warmth, the understanding, the eminent likability of Pat – was all genuine," said her stepson, Steve Silverman, of Scottsdale, Ariz. "That was who Pat was at her core."

A Pasadena native, Wiggins moved to Santa Rosa in 1984. Soon after, she and her husband of 30 years, Guy Conner, helped organize Concerned Citizens for Santa Rosa, which argued for stricter scrutiny of growth in Sonoma County's largest city.

A former computer systems analyst, she entered public office in the mid-1990s and became a leader of the local Democratic Party's liberal faction. In all, she served 14 years in office: four on the Santa Rosa City Council, six in the state Assembly, and four as a state senator representing the 2nd District, which stretched from Solano County to Humboldt County.

Though she became nearly deaf, she dealt with it matter-of-factly and inspired others with challenges, friends said.

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane said Sunday that Wiggins was an unabashed liberal feminist, who worked on efforts to prevent domestic violence and to pass legislation like Safe Routes to School.

"There was no more fierce advocate and supporter of women than Pat Wiggins," said Lynn Woolsey, the retired Democratic Congresswoman from Petaluma.

North Coast Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, recalled Wiggins' "devilish sense of humor, wicked smile and (the) glow in her eyes."

"What do you get when you cross a stuntman wing-walker with a parachutist woman? That's right, Pat Wiggins," he said.

Thompson wasn't just joking about Wiggins' boldness. Her father, Ralph, was a stuntman who stood in for actors like John Wayne and Robert Redford in aerial movie scenes and her mother, Grace, was a parachutist. The pair met on an airplane jump.

Though many in the audience knew of Wiggins' commitment to progressive ideals, childhood friends told tales that undoubtedly surprised some colleagues.

Cousin Kathie Reilly said Wiggins was a bookkeeper at "Playgirl" magazine before she became interested in politics. Her longest and closest friends knew her as "Patsy."

"Pat loved the coast," said good friend Marty Roberts, one of a group of friends who rent a house at the Sea Ranch every year. "She loved the seals, the deer, a book by the fire."

Wiggins also loved champagne, Roberts began to say — and just then in the audience someone dropped a wine glass, triggering giggles at the notion that Wiggins was there in spirit.

Ron Hayes was one of those friends who danced at the coast getaways. He spoke of Wiggins' smile and laughter and how "slowly, oh so slowly, Pat left us."

Those who surrounded Wiggins in her last few years took pains to conceal her health problems, offering little explanation for an odd pattern of behavior that surfaced in 2009. She announced the next year she wouldn't seek re-election.

Only one speaker Sunday addressed the issue, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who noted that her mother-in-law had also had dementia and she understood the challenges Wiggins and her family went through.

"I know what happens... to the person who is still there," she said. "We have a long way to go in society about how we treat someone."

In addition to Conner and Steve Silverman, Wiggins is survived by stepson James Silverman of Owings Mills, Md., and four grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to the Sonoma Land Trust or to the Pat Wiggins Fund at Conservation Action Fund for Education.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.