Former California Congresswoman, UC regent Ellen Tauscher has died

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Former Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher of California, a trailblazer for women in the world of finance who served in congress for more than a decade before joining the Obama Administration and who was a longtime cancer survivor, has died of complications from pneumonia. She was 67.

Her family said in a statement Tuesday that Tauscher died Monday at Stanford University Medical Center surrounded by her daughter, Katherine, and other relatives.

"Ellen was brilliant, gracious and generous and always did her best to lift up those around her," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a close friend of Tauscher's, said in a tweet. "At heart, Ellen was a great human being and a wonderful mother."

Tauscher, who represented the East Bay for decades, got her first political experience as a fundraiser for Feinstein in the 1990s.

Gov. Gavin Newsom called Tauscher "one of California's finest public servants... For decades, Ellen tackled some of our most pressing challenges – from access to childcare to nuclear arms control – with grace and heart."

In a statement, Newsom recalled Tauscher blazing trails in "business and in the halls of Congress." He added that she "held her own at some of the world's toughest negotiating tables," adding that he and hiw wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, "will hold Ellen's memory close as we continue her work toward a more just and peaceful world.”

Tauscher, a Democrat, worked on Wall Street before being elected to the House in 1996 from a district that included much of Contra Costa County as well as parts of Alameda, Solano and Sacramento counties. She unseated Rep. Bill Baker, the last Republican to represent a Bay Area-centered House district.

Tauscher was the youngest woman and one of the first women to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

She resigned in 2009 during her 7th term in the House, when President Barack Obama appointed her to the State Department. There, she became an undersecretary, where she helped lead negotiations with Russia over the 2010 New START treaty, the first major arms control agreement between the two powers in almost two decades.

She worked on the treaty even after being diagnosed with stage three esophageal cancer in 2010.

Tauscher was most recently on the University of California Board of Regents and in 2018, became the chair of the Board of Governors for Los Alamos National Security and Lawrence Livermore National Security. 

"I was deeply saddened to hear of Ellen’s passing — a profound loss for California and the nation, and those of us who have been blessed to know her personally," University of California President Janet Napolitano said in a statement. "A compassionate leader with utmost integrity, Ellen exemplified a deep commitment to public service, justice, and improving the lives and futures of others."

Feinstein alluded to the fact that Tauscher had been ill recently, giving credit to her daughter, Katherine, for staying by her mother's side in the hospital.

In April, Tauscher tweeted that her friends hadn't heard from her in a while because she was recovering from pneumonia compounded by an unexpected complication from cancer nine years ago. 

In 2016, Tauscher talked to KTVU about surviving esophageal cancer. She was familiar with the disease because her Irish Catholic grandmother died from esophageal cancer in 1974. 

Tauscher remembered two difficult conversations she had after receiving the diagnosis: one with her daughter. "I said to her (she had) to bet on me (because) I'm going to beat this," she said. "I know the numbers are shocking but we are just going to have to beat this."

The second difficult conversation was with Hillary Clinton, a talk the two had a day before Tauscher started chemotherapy.

"We have been friends for many, many years," Tauscher said. "She was devastated and I was saying to her don't worry because I'm going to beat this."

Tauscher ended up having eight rounds of chemo and 25 rounds of radiation.

 "So here I was the Undersecretary of State (and the) president's adviser on weapons of mass destruction and I'm using chemical and radiological weapons to kill my cancer," she said, adding that she was losing weight while being "chemically poisoned and radiologically treated."

She remained in her role at the State Department and when she was too weak to leave the house, people came to her. 

"Sometimes they were shocked when they saw me but after that we just got back to business," she said. 

The chemo did kill her tumor and she walked out of the hospital on the same day that the arms treaty with Russia was signed. But her life would never be the same because doctors had to remove her esophagus and build her a new one.

"I can eat like everyone else (but) I have a much smaller stomach so it's like a 3-inch bowl," she said. "I can't lay down flat."

When she interviewed with KTVU nearly three years ago, she had been cancer free for six years.

The Associated Press and KTVU's Claudine Wong contributed to this report.