Shannon Kula, the chief of staff for former U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, died of cancer Aug. 25 at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. She was 48.
“Shannon was a motivational leader,” Ms. Mikulski, a Democrat, said. “She had a a gift for working with people. She brought out the best in her staff.
“She was a bipartisan worker too. She worked with Bobby Ehrlich and Larry Hogan [both Republicans]. She worked to get the FBI headquarters in Maryland. No issue was too small for her.
“Shannon really served the people of Maryland,” Ms. Mikulski said. “She had a beautiful smile and made me look good.”
Born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester in New York. She later received a master’s degree and doctorate from Georgetown University.
While at the University of Rochester fitness center, she met her future husband, Ronald Clark.
“Our first date at lunch became a 10-hour day,” he said. “We have been inseparable ever since. It was love at first sight.”
Mr. Clark, who spent much of his military career as a Marine in Iraq and Bosnia, said, “Wars did not keep us apart.”
After college, Ms. Kula returned home and went to work for Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut. Later she moved to his Washington office.
“Shannon began her career as a rising star in my Senate office. She was fondly remembered for her intellect, capability, warmth and kindness,” Mr. Dodd said. “Shannon was a passionate force for good in the world.”
Ms. Kula was named chief of staff for Ms. Mikulski in 2003 and worked with her until the senator left office in 2017.
While in Ms. Mikulski’s office, she met Barbara A. O’Malley, the mother of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who also served on Mikulski’s staff.
“Shannon was a kind, authentic and generous spirit who treated everyone with dignity and respect,” Mr. O’Malley said. “She and my mother became good friends and they treasured their quiet moments before the 8 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph’s Church across the street from the Senate building.
“That gives you a sense of their diligence, and the fact they were the first at the office. When they spoke together, it wasn’t small talk ... It was the health and well-being of the other people who worked there ... marriages, the kids and the marriages breaking up.
“Shannon tended to the health and well-being of that staff. She was very skilled — diligent and thorough in all of her business dealing with people. I recall her depth of heart, her kindness and compassion. She looked for the good in other people,” Mr. O’Malley said.
According to Ms. Kula’s resume, she developed strategies on funding the federal government, national security and making sure promises made were promises kept to veterans. She also supported equal opportunities for women.
She was an advocate for access to affordable health care and child care.
Ms. Kula ran unsuccessfully for a Connecticut congressional seat in 2018. She was also chair of the Connecticut Women’s Commission and president of Family Life, a nonprofit.
“Her campaign was critically delayed by the return of her breast cancer,” her husband, Ron, said. “She lost critical time, but she still wanted to serve.”
Colleagues said she was active in the creation and preservation of the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, a hub for women’s rights in Washington, D.C.
The Morning Sun
Julia Frifield, a colleague, said: “Shannon had a remarkable mix of kindness, strength, intelligence and fun, which she brought to her work and her friendships. She was always learning and pushing us to try new experiences.”
Ms. Kula also was involved in the naming of a Capitol room for Ms. Mikulski.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar said: “Shannon left a lasting impression in the Capitol, not only with her steady leadership, but also with a contribution to the building itself: She was instrumental in the unveiling of the Mikulski room. Her legacy will live on through that and countless other contributions from her years of public service.”
Said Rachel MacKnight, a colleague: “Shannon was a driving force behind the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and Sen. Mikulski’s women’s preventive health care amendment that guaranteed women a yearly mammogram with no copay.”
After Ms. Mikulski left the Senate, Ms. Kula became president of Spartan Strategy & Risk Management, a firm dedicated to rebuilding the U.S. manufacturing base. She also taught and did research at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
A Mass will be held at noon Saturday at St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill, 313 Second Street NE, Washington, D.C. A memorial service will precede the Mass at 11 a.m.
Survivors include her husband of 19 years, Ronald Clark, the CEO of Spartan Strategy & Risk Management; her mother, Joanne Johnson; and two sisters, Lori Kula and Heather Kula, all of Connecticut.