Senator George Runner’s posts on Facebook are usually quips from floor discussions or questions about issues facing his constituents. But Tuesday morning, it was somber, bearing the shocking news that his long-time Chief of Staff Will Smith had died of an apparent heart attack Monday night while playing a pick-up basketball game.
“Will had been with me and Sharon for almost 14 years,” Runner wrote. “He was friend and family to us.”
Smith, 41, was playing his favorite sport of basketball when he collapsed. According to Jana Saastad, Runner’s spokeswoman, Smith was given immediate CPR followed by a vigorous attempt by paramedics and then all possible efforts by the team at Sutter General.
“He died because they couldn’t get his heart rhythms under control,” wrote his wife, Anissa Smith.
“We are devastated but we rejoice knowing that Will is home with Jesus at this very moment,” Smith wrote in an e-mail to Runner’s staff. “He lived his life on earth for Christ and now he will spend his eternity with Him. They don’t know why this happened and hopefully the autopsy will help to give us some answers, we only know the Lord called him home. The kids and I greatly appreciate your prayers.”
Smith was a longtime Capitol staffer, beginning his career as a Jesse Unruh Fellow in the early 1990s, after graduating from Sacramento State University. He worked for Assemblymembers George House and Dean Andal, and then-Assemblyman George Runner. When Runner was termed out in the Assembly, Smith worked as chief of staff for Assemblywoman Sharon Runner for two years before becoming chief of staff to George Runner when he was elected to the Senate in 2004.
Saastad said that Smith will be remembered by his co-workers as a kind and loving man with a wry sense of humor and a brilliant mind for politics and strategy.
“He was also a fair and balanced boss who was always willing to lend an ear,” she concluded.
In addition to his wife, Smith is survived by four young children: Lydia, Joshua, Julia and Caleb; his parents and numerous family members and friends. Information about services will be released when the details are finalized.