Boehner chief of staff Nowakowski dies of apparent heart attack

President Barack Obama called Minority Leader John Boehner on Sunday to offer condolences for the death of Boehner’s longtime aide, Paula Nowakowski, according to aides familiar with the situation.

Devastated, Boehner announced earlier in the day that his 46-year-old “longtime chief of staff, trusted aide and friend” died on Saturday night.

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Leadership aides tell The Hill that the Michigan native died unexpectedly of an apparent heart attack.

“We will remember Paula as she would want to be remembered -- as a tireless worker, faithful friend, rabid Detroit sports fan, whip-smart strategist, warrior for freedom, and devoted Catholic who counted President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II among her greatest heroes.  She will never be replaced, or forgotten,” Boehner said in a statement issued shortly after noon on Sunday.

Boehner’s close circle of aides who have worked with the leader since his early years in the House were stunned to learn of Nowakowski’s death.

“Words cannot adequately express the sorrow and disbelief I and every member of our team are grappling with today in the wake of this stunning news,” Boehner said of his powerful staffer, well-regarded by Democrats and Republicans for her ability to be fair and fervent love of the House of Representatives. 

Those sentiments were echoed by the Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), in a statement issued on behalf of the “entire Capitol Hill community.”

“As Chief of Staff to Republican Leader John Boehner, Paula earned the respect not only of her Leadership and Conference, but all House Members on both sides of the aisle. Paula was a thorough professional who loved the House and worked in a constructive and bipartisan fashion to implement policies to help the Congress function efficiently," Pelosi said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) weighed in on behalf of the upper chamber Republicans late Sunday.

"Paula had some of the finest qualities a public servant can have: she was committed to advancing the cause of freedom, she cared deeply about the people she served, and she was a patriot.

"On behalf of her Senate colleagues, I pass on my condolences to her family, Leader Boehner and his staff, and the whole House family for this tragic loss of our friend."

Nowakowski, a well-heeled GOP operative, started working with Boehner in 1995, after the House Republicans regained control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

Boehner, then chairman of the House GOP Conference, in the heady days of newfound majority status, hired Nowakowski to be the communications director of that shop. Until that point, the cool-headed thirtysomething had worked with the national GOP party campaign operation under then-Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour.

Nowakowski took a brief sabbatical from Capitol Hill in 1998 when she went to work for the American Industry Association.

Two years later, however, she returned to Boehner duty as staff director of the Education and Labor Committee when he was elected chairman.

Nowakowski was a proponent of Boehner’s longshot bid to become the second ranking House Republican in 2006, when then-indicted former House Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) resigned from his job.

After winning a hard-fought effort to succeed DeLay, Nowakowski accompanied Boehner to his new digs on the first floor of the Capitol as his chief of staff -- a position she retained until her untimely death.

Last year, Boehner told The Hill that “Paula has been a great leader, a great manager and tougher than nails.”

Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said that the office would send out details on a memorial for Nowakowski as they become available.

House GOP leaders head back to the area for their elected leadership committee retreat on Monday.

They intend to hold the retreat, a leadership source confirmed.

“Everyone agrees Paula would want that after all the planning that's been done,” the aide said.

This story was updated at 6:35 p.m.