Former state Rep. Tamara Grigsby, who had recently been tapped to lead Dane County’s new Department of Equity and Inclusion, died unexpectedly Monday, according to County Executive Joe Parisi.
Parisi released a statement Tuesday that said Grigsby, 41, died of unexpected “health complications” Monday. His chief of staff Josh Wescott said the county executive’s office did not know the exact cause of death.
“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,” Parisi said in the statement. “She was a public servant to be emulated, but more than that she was our friend, and we will miss her so.”
Grigsby graduated from Madison Memorial High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C., before returning home for a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
She worked in the Milwaukee office of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families before running for the 18th District Assembly seat in 2004. She defeated two others in a primary and was uncontested in the general election.
Grigsby served in the legislature from 2005 until 2013, advocating on a variety of topics adversely affecting poor, minority communities.
In 2005, she pushed for the state to require sex education to teach “scientifically based information and instruction,” including the effectiveness of federally approved birth control methods. She also called for studies of black incarceration rates and pushed for expansion of race data reporting resulting from police traffic stops. Later in her legislative stint, Grigsby clashed with Republicans on cuts to low-income tax credits and BadgerCare Plus.
Grigsby was hospitalized for more than a month in December 2011 to undergo cancer treatment.
“During her time in the legislature and throughout her life, Rep. Grigsby dedicated herself to ensuring basic fairness, equality and justice for all our citizens,” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said in a statement. “She also served admirably as a member of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee during one of the most tumultuous sessions in Wisconsin political history.
“When she endured a life-threatening battle with cancer toward the end of her Assembly tenure, she fought as courageously and forcefully as she always did on behalf of her constituents.”
The Rev. Everett Mitchell recalled working with Grigsby on a United Way task force on police use of force.
“She came home to Madison to serve it the way she served the state,” Mitchell said in a statement. “I will miss her candor, her insight and broad vision. She remains a rich and deep personality of progress.”
Prior to being selected to head the county’s new Department of Equity and Inclusion last year, Grigsby worked as a community outreach coordinator for Parisi, who credited her with developing the county’s 2015 “Access to Opportunity” policy initiatives.
Grigsby’s family will hold a private memorial service, but Parisi said a public celebration of her life will be held at a later date.