GRIGSBY 2 (copy)

Tamara Grigsby, Dane County director of community relations.

Tamara Grigsby, a former state representative and recent director of Dane County’s Department of Equity and Inclusion, died this week from health complications. She was 41.

A statement from County Executive Joe Parisi said Grigsby died unexpectedly from health complications. She had previously been treated for an undisclosed form of cancer.

"Words cannot express our sorrow over Tamara's passing or our respect for the life she lived,” Parisi said in the statment. “Tamara was a special human being whose sole motivation in life was to make a difference in the lives of others — a goal at which she excelled. She was a public servant to be emulated, but more than that she was our friend, and we will miss her so."

Grigsby, who represented a Milwaukee district for eight years before announcing she would not run for re-election in 2012, was seen as a Democratic up-and-comer until she suffered her medical setback.

A graduate of Madison Memorial High School, Grigsby was a Milwaukee social worker when she was elected to the Assembly in 2004, going on to become a member of the powerful Joint Finance Committee. She also chaired the Assembly Committee on Children and Families.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, who served with Grigsby on the Joint Finance Committee, said she was shocked and saddened by the news. 

"Tamara was a strong, passionate, articulate voice for her community in Milwaukee and children and families across the state, and building stronger families and opportunities for everyone in the state," she said. "I’m deeply saddened and we all hold her family in our thoughts and prayers."

State Sen. Lena Taylor, whom Grigsby succeeded in her Assembly district, said Grigsby was a fierce advocate for children, particularly juvenile offenders.

"I will never forget the advocacy, in these times of Lincoln Hills, that Tamara did," Taylor said, referring to allegations of neglect and abuse being investigated at the state's juvenile facility. 

She added: "She always said one quote that I often use, which is, 'Instead of the Department of Corrections, if we’re not going to do programming and prevention, we should call it the Department of Punishment."

Grigsby was featured in a Capital Times Q&A shortly before her departure from the Legislature, and again upon her return to Madison in 2014.

After leaving state government, she worked in the Milwaukee school district for 18 months before returning to Madison as Parisi’s community relations director, charged with working with employers, public officials and community groups to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in education, employment and the criminal justice system.

Parisi, who served in the Assembly with Grigsby, created the Department of Equity and Inclusion this year to put more of a focus on those efforts, naming Grigsby as the director.

Grigsby, who was single, earned a bachelor’s degree from Howard University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As well as her career in social work, Grigsby taught at UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee, Carroll University and Cardinal Stritch University.

Capital Times reporter Jessie Opoien contributed to this story.

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.