By Christina Wilkie - 01/11/11 12:34 AM EST
A Fulbright Scholar and former tire-company CEO, at age 40, Giffords is serving her third term in the House, where she is the only member of Congress with an active-duty military spouse, Air Force Capt. and NASA astronaut Mark Kelly.
She is an avid motorcyclist, and according to her website she hopes to ride her bike to Argentina one day. In the meantime, she opts for Highway 83 in Arizona.
As Giffords recovers from a gunshot wound to the head she suffered Saturday, the outpouring of support from her friends and colleagues in Congress has been overwhelming. What emerges from them is a picture of a beloved lawmaker who can disagree without being disagreeable, who loves public service and who has united disparate political factions around her.
“Gabby is a true congressional superstar — savvy, sharp, sincere and as sunny as the state she heralds from.”
— Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), in a statement
“On one of our trips [to Afghanistan] we met and sort of became friends with a Navy SEAL team … and they do [skydiving] training down in a base in [Giffords’s] district. So Gabby has gone on a tandem jump out of an airplane, just because she could and because she wanted to.
“She’s always telling me that I ought to do it, [but] I’m not jumping out of an airplane unless I absolutely have to. But for Gabby, it was just great. It was a way to connect with people, and she is absolutely fearless in everything she does.”
— Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.)
“Gabby is one of the finest members of Congress I know. She has spent her time … working her heart out to improve the lives of the people she represents. And she loves her husband and family above all else.”
— Vice President Biden, in a statement
“Dear Gabrielle Giffords: I had never heard of you until the day you took part in the reading of the Constitution on the House floor. Thank you ... I believe it showed your love for your country. Well, your country loves you, too, Gabby. There are prayers by the millions for your speedy recovery, including this one.”
— Randall Bays, via Facebook, one of hundreds of messages posted for Giffords
“Less than two years ago, at [President] Obama’s swearing-in, I had the pleasure to sit beside [Giffords], and we were sitting in a shaded area of the steps of the Capitol. And there was a howling wind. She had a blanket, and she noticed me shivering, and she asked if I wanted to get under the blanket. We huddled under the blanket, keeping each other warm. She is kind-hearted, gentle and [a] staunch advocate for the men and women in uniform.”
— Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), to The Hill
“Every time you see her, she’s got a smile, she’s got a wonderful thing to say. She and I had a great chat just a couple of days ago about her coming to visit me in my district. She works hard; she’s full of fun.”
— Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), in a CNN interview
“Gabby Giffords was reading the Constitution the last time I saw her on the floor. She was reading the First Amendment, which includes the right to peaceably assemble. [On Saturday] she was out doing her job, exercising her First Amendment rights.”
— Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), in a CNN interview
“Gabby and I [are] pretty much at opposite ends of the political spectrum. But there was never an unkind or terse or mean communication or word that came between us. She was always absolutely kind and decent to me. And I just — I suppose that just intensifies the hole in my heart I have for her and all of those that suffered the loss.”
— Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), in a CNN interview
“[Gabby] always teases me that I’m her husband’s favorite member of Congress, and she is his second favorite. We have a great friendship, and I have great admiration for Gabby.”
— Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), during ABC interview
“Friday [Gabby and I] were talking about border security and she invited me to Tucson, and I’ve invited her to Texas … we are good friends. I think she’s a feisty woman and … she’ll pull through with this.”
— Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), in a CNN interview
“We have [spent a lot of time together]. And I know in the future we’re going to continue to spend a lot of time together. Our families have vacationed together. Our kids know Mark [Kelly’s] kids … [Gabby Giffords] has the heart of a lion and she’s a fighter. And if there’s anybody that can pull through an injury like this, it’s Gabby Giffords.”
— Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), in a CNN interview
Mourning staffer Gabe Zimmerman
Gabe Zimmerman, 30, was Giffords’s director of outreach, and he was among the six victims who died on Saturday. Zimmerman, a former social worker, was engaged to be married this spring.
Flags flew at half-staff over the Capitol on Monday to mourn his loss, and his colleagues and friends shared their memories of him with media throughout the weekend.
“The people on my staff just really loved working with him.”
— Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl
(R-Ariz.), in an NBC interview
“Gabe was one of the most kind people I’ve ever met. He was so hardworking and so dedicated. And we know that he was shot down as he was rushing to help, just as Daniel Hernandez was. Daniel survived; Gabe did not. It is an incredible tragedy to all of us in the future of Tucson that Gabe is no longer there to help us with it.”
— Arizona state Rep. Steve Farley,
in a CNN interview
“Gabby [Giffords] always tells us she has a great skill to attract people who are extremely loyal, but also very warm and endearing. And the best people on the planet work for her office because she is one of the best. So losing someone like Gabe is a real loss, not just to her staff, but also the entire community.”
— Daniel Hernandez, an intern on Giffords’s staff who treated her moments after she was shot, to CNN
“Gabe oversaw the thousands of cases that the congresswoman had with constituents, Medicare benefits, veterans’ benefits … he was very good with people. He was engaged to be married from Tucson, a great guy, and a trusted member of the congresswoman’s staff from the very beginning.”
— Giffords’s press secretary
C.J. Karamargin, in a CNN interview
ITK offers condolences to the families and friends of all those lost in Saturday’s attack, and hopes for the speedy recovery of the injured.