Paula Nowakowski, chief of staff to US House Minority Leader John Boehner, died of an apparent heart attack at her home in Alexandria last night.

Politico andThe Hill both have stories on Capitol Hill reaction.

Like Alexandria, Capitol Hill is a small town. And in Virginia politics, the Hill and Alexandria are neighboring small towns. I know many residents of both are, like me, saddened by her death.

Paula, at 46, was a veteran on the Hill, having spent over a decade in Boehner-land, as well as time at the RNC with then-chair, Gov. Haley Barbour.

I can’t offer the same eloquence as Boehner did in his statement about Paula:

We will remember Paula as she would want to be remembered – as a tireless worker, faithful friend, rabid Detroit sports fan, whipsmart strategist, warrior for freedom, and devoted Catholic who counted President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II among her greatest heroes. She will never be replaced, or forgotten.

But I did have the honor of knowing Paula and calling her a friend. I first met her when we both worked on a mutual friend’s campaign for National Committeewoman in Virginia in 2000. She was a big-time, national Republican operative. I had one losing House of Delegates campaign to my credit. But, with her generous spirit, she took me seriously (probably more seriously than anyone should) and we hit it off.

For a decade, Paula offered me encouragement and kindness personally and professionally. And I was so glad our paths continued to cross. We were both Michigan natives working for Ohioans for a couple of years. A couple of jobs later, our bosses were close friends from their joint efforts to pass No Child Left Behind. And even in years when our paths didn’t cross professionally, she encouraged me and offered her support on everything from local campaigns in Alexandria to starting my own business earlier this year.

I know Paula left me a richer person for having known her and I’m sure there are many others with similar stories who feel the same way.

This hasn’t been the typical fare for Red NoVA. I hope you’ll excuse the departure. And I hope you’ll join me in keeping Paula’s family, her friends, and her colleagues in prayer.