Chona Sarte, a 32-year-old aide to Gov. Gavin Newsom, died Monday night of natural causes, the governor’s office announced Tuesday.
Sarte, who had a heart condition, served as deputy director of external affairs in the Newsom administration.
Born and raised in Sacramento, Sarte attended Sacramento State for college and UC Davis for her business degree, said Priscilla Cheng, her supervisor in the governor’s office. The only introvert working on team of extroverts, Sarte was a respected and talented colleague, Cheng said.
“She was this smart, intelligent but extremely humble and calming source in the midst of a really busy, high pressure environment,” Cheng said.
In a statement, Newsom described Sarte as a “passionate defender of the environment.” He applauded her work to clean the state’s air and water as a special projects adviser at the California Environmental Protection Agency, where she worked for nine years before joining Newsom’s office.
“We were all fortunate that such a kind and talented colleague was one of the first people that community leaders met when they came to Sacramento,” Newsom said in a statement. “Her colleagues remember this passion, matched only by her generosity as she would happily lend a hand to any teammate in need.”
At CalEPA, she served as assistant to then-Secretary for Environmental Protection Matt Rodriquez, who remembers her as a dedicated public servant with a sense of humor.
Once, he recalled, in Toronto for a meeting, he got lost on his way to a state dinner. Rather than relying on his cab driver, he got out of the car and called Sarte, who successfully directed him to the dinner from thousands of miles away using Google maps.
“She was just a wonderful person, always very calm, always very patient,” Rodriquez said. “I trusted her.”
Sarte orchestrated discussions among the governor’s team, state agencies and outside groups as Newsom shaped his plan to put a moratorium on the death penalty in California, Cheng said.
“She did that with such grace and calmness,” Cheng said. “For such a young person to be able to display that kind of leadership was something I think folks really remember.”
In her application to work in the governor’s office, Sarte said she wanted to help make California a leader for the rest of the country.
“During this uncertain political time at the federal level for policy issues like health care, immigration and environmental protection, the progressive work in California is even more significant,” she wrote.
Her colleagues draped flowers over the bear statue outside the governor’s office in the state Capitol in her memory.