Political Notebook

‘I have lost one of my oldest friends.’ Staff director for Devin Nunes dies after illness

Damon Nelson
Damon Nelson

Damon Nelson, staff director of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a friend of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, since high school, has died after a brief illness.

In a heartfelt statement posted on the website of the Intelligence Committee, Nunes, the committee chair, said, “I have lost one of my oldest friends — someone whom my wife, my three daughters, and I regarded as an extended family member.

“My offices will no longer ring with Damon’s infectious laugh, which brightened the mood on even the most stressful days,” he said.

Nelson, 46, died Sunday at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Maryland following a brief illness, the statement said.

Nelson spent most of his life in public service after serving as an in-flight refueling specialist for the U.S. Air Force. A veteran of the Persian Gulf War, he joined Nunes’ staff when he first got elected to Congress.

They went to high school together at Tulare Union, Nunes said.

“He was hired as my legislative director when I first joined Congress in 2003, and he later became deputy chief of staff,” Nunes said. “In those positions he was a tireless advocate for improving the California water supply and established himself as one of our region’s preeminent experts on that complicated issue. In 2015 he moved to the Intelligence Committee and a year later became staff director.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Speaker Paul Ryan and members of Congress posted tributes to Nelson on Twitter.

“Damon Nelson served America loyally with honesty, dedication and commitment,” Pompeo wrote. “His passing brings me great sadness. I worked with Damon during my time in Congress — the Intelligence Committee will miss his smile and the joy he brought to our mission. Prayers for Damon and his family.”

Ryan wrote: “I am shaken by the sudden loss of Damon Nelson, staff director of the House Intelligence Committee. Damon was a dedicated public servant and a truly kind and genuine person. We are praying for his wife and family at this tragic time.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence committee, also praised Nelson.

“Our Committee has lost a family member, and a truly decent and caring man — a husband, a friend, and a dedicated public servant — Damon Nelson,” Schiff wrote on Twitter. “Our hearts and our prayers are with his wife Dana, his family, his colleagues and all of his friends.”

Nelson was well known on Capitol Hill for his deep knowledge of government affairs and his enthusiasm for helping others, particularly interns and entry-level staffers, Nunes’ statement said.

“He always had an encouraging word for young job seekers and was always willing to make a call or forward a resume to help them get their careers started,” Nunes said.

Johnny Amaral, a former Nunes chief of staff, said Nelson was the second person hired to work in Washington D.C. after Nunes won election.

“Damon was an incredible leader,” Amaral said. “From day one, Damon could be entrusted with any task in or out of the office. He was the perfect staffer and perfect friend.”

Former Nunes staffer Rudy Mendoza of Woodlake described Nelson as accomplished, educated and easy to be around.

“He didn’t put on airs,” Mendoza said. “He was very humble.”

Nelson is survived by his wife, Dana.

A scholarship fund in Nelson’s honor is being established for graduates of Tulare Union High School to attend the College of the Sequoias.

Contributions can be sent to the Damon P. Nelson Memorial Scholarship Fund at cos.edu/foundation, or checks can be mailed to the Damon P. Nelson Memorial Scholarship Fund, COS Foundation, 915 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia, CA 93277.