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Colleagues Mourn Millender-McDonald at Capitol Ceremony

At a partly solemn, partly laugh-filled ceremony in Statuary Hall this morning, House and Senate officials gathered with friends and family of the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) to celebrate the life of the first black woman to chair a full committee in Congress.

Millender-McDonald, who several colleagues noted today was perhaps the best-dressed Member of the House, was tapped to head the House Administration Committee by the new Democratic majority after serving as the panel’s ranking member during the 109th Congress. But as Millender-McDonald went about her work this year serving as the unofficial “Mayor of Capitol Hill,” she was also battling cancer — a fact that very few of her colleagues knew about.

In late April, just days after taking a leave from Congress, Millender-McDonald died at her Los Angeles-area home surrounded by her tight-knit family, many of whom attended Thursday’s service. Her funeral was held in California on April 30.

At this morning’s ceremony, the California Representative who was born in Alabama was remembered as trailblazer for black women who always carried herself with grace, even at the very end of her life.

Fellow California Rep. David Dreier (R) recalled Millender-McDonald as a close friend and neighbor and “a woman who always comported herself with extraordinary dignity. … She taught us how to live and she also taught us how to die.”

Millender-McDonald’s daughter, Valerie McDonald — a candidate to replace her mother in California’s 37th district — said the late lawmaker loved working in “the People’s House” and noted that as chairwoman of the House Administration panel, her mom “was motivated by the hardworking men and women of the Capitol community who make this place run.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) highlighted Millender-McDonald’s commitment to the workers on Capitol Hill by reading a moving poem that was written about the late Congresswoman by “an ordinary worker in the Capitol.”

Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D) said, “this is the People’s House. But this place is really known as Juanita Millender-McDonald’s House. She was our ‘mayor.’ … If you had a problem, you could count that it was Mayor Millender-McDonald’s to solve.”

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) added that “there is a song, ‘God Bless America.’ We’ve sung it often, especially since September 11. And God does indeed bless America, and he blessed it through our friend Juanita Millender-McDonald.”