Throughout Mr. Brown’s current round as governor — he served from 1975 to 1983 before being elected again in 2010 — Ms. McFadden was a constant at his side. She traveled with him to China and Rome to discuss climate change and negotiated with state legislators to persuade them to back a new gas tax.
Ms. McFadden was seen as the leader of a small group of advisers who work closely with the governor. Last year, she spearheaded a successful effort to extend the state’s extensive cap-and-trade program, setting a statewide limit on greenhouse gas emissions. She regarded the achievement as one of her greatest.
A photograph of her and other members of the governor’s staff on the day the bill was passed hangs at her home, its frame engraved with the inscription “That time we changed the world.”
Ms. McFadden gained her most extensive experience in politics working for Bill Clinton. She joined his 1992 presidential campaign early on at the urging of Warren M. Christopher, a partner at the law firm O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, where she was a junior associate. (Mr. Christopher became secretary of state in President Clinton’s first term.)
Recognizing her interest in public policy, Mr. Christopher urged Ms. McFadden to leave her job and join the fledgling Clinton campaign in Little Rock, Ark., where Mr. Clinton was governor.
Ms. McFadden was ultimately named deputy political director for the campaign and found herself navigating some of its most fraught controversies, including accusations of an extramarital affair and Mr. Clinton’s draft deferments during the Vietnam War.
After the 1992 election, Ms. McFadden was appointed a deputy associate attorney general, acting as a liaison between the Justice Department and the White House. She moved on to become general counsel for the Transportation Department and later continued to serve in the Clinton administration as the deputy chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore.
In 2001, after George W. Bush defeated Mr. Gore in the 2000 presidential race, Ms. McFadden returned to California, where she had spent much of her childhood, to advise Governor Davis during the state’s energy crisis.
She later worked at Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation as senior vice president for public affairs before she joined the Brown administration.
Though Ms. McFadden had not worked with Governor Brown before joining his staff, the two developed a rapport that went far beyond anything he had with other staff members.
“She completely won over his trust,” said Anne Gust Brown, the governor’s wife, who is also one of his top advisers.
Nancy Elizabeth McFadden was born in Wilmington, Del., the eldest child of William McFadden and the former Mary Adams. Both parents were registered nurses. The couple divorced when Nancy was a child, and at 10 she moved to San Jose, Calif., with her mother and younger brother. As a nurse her mother would work extra shifts at night to make ends meet.
Ms. McFadden attended San Jose State University and ran for student body president, beating out Joe Trippi, who would become a prominent Democratic political consultant.
After getting her bachelor’s degree she graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law and clerked for a federal judge.
Ms. McFadden was known for her discretion, choosing to remain behind the scenes despite her prominence in the administration. “She had a personality that knew how politics worked and could make it function without needing to be in the spotlight,” a friend, Steven Maviglio, said. “She was willing to do months and months of work, without worrying about who was going to get credit. She understood it was not about her.”
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