Slain Giffords staffer honored at U.S. Capitol
WASHINGTON – Gabe Zimmerman died when a gunman opened fire at a Rep. Gabrielle Giffords event in January, but Zimmerman’s mother told a packed room on Capitol Hill Wednesday that her son should not be remembered for his death.
It is Gabe’s “hard work and ideals that should be recognized here,” Emily Nottingham told the crowd that gathered to honor her son, an aide to Giffords who was one of six people killed in the Jan. 8 attack in Tucson.
On Wednesday, lawmakers unveiled a resolution to name a room in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center for Zimmerman, the first congressional staffer killed in the line of duty. The center’s Room HVC-215 would be “The Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room” under the resolution sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.
Arizona Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor of Phoenix and Republican Reps. David Schweikert of Scottsdale, Ben Quayle of Phoenix, Jeff Flake of Mesa and Trent Franks of Peoria, all spoke at Wednesday’s event.
“It is the right thing to do,” Schweikert said of renaming the room in Zimmerman’s honor. “Look at the wonderful things he did for Arizona, for this district.”
Nottingham and her other son, Ben, who spoke haltingly at times during the news conference, talked about Gabe’s service-oriented career and his passion for the work he did.
In an interview after the event, Ben and his mother were still red-eyed and emotional, but said they were grateful for the congressional gesture.
“It would be a great honor and tribute,” Ben said of the room renaming for his brother.
Nottingham perked up as she spoke of Gabe’s passion for community service and the many tributes to him, of which the congressional resolution is only the most recent. She said that scholarships have been set up in Gabe’s name at several schools he attended.
Individual and corporate donors have stepped forward to fund an Arizona State University scholarship for master’s students in the School of Social Work’s Tucson Component. Another scholarship has been established in Zimmerman’s name at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for undergraduate sociology students.
Zimmerman earned an undergraduate sociology degree from UCSC in 2002 and a graduate degree from ASU in 2006, according to information at Wednesday’s event.
Child and Family Resources Inc., a counseling group for which Zimmerman was a board member, has taken in more than $46,000 for programs he supported while on the board, said Colleen Bagnall, the organization’s development director.
Bagnall said Zimmerman’s family set up the fund after the Tucson shooting, when people began calling and asking where to donate. They decided to direct donations to programs that were close Gabe’s heart.
Zimmerman supported all programs at Child and Family Resources, Bagnall said, but three programs in particular were important to him: support for teen moms, a troubled fathers program and an in-home counseling program. When money was tight, she said, Zimmerman always reminded the board of the basics — the importance of their services to the community — and said they would find the funds.
“Our clients were the most important things to him,” Bagnall said.
Zimmerman was Giffords' director of community outreach and set up the “Congresswoman on the Corner” event on Jan. 8, the day of the shooting spree that killed him and five others and wounded 13 — including Giffords, who was shot in the head.
Giffords' Chief of Staff Pia Carusone spoke fondly Wednesday of the record of public service left by Zimmerman, who served on the boards of the YWCA and the Comstock Foundation, among other organizations.
“His legacy of service demonstrates how congressional offices can make a real, tangible difference in people’s lives,” Carusone said.
Ben Zimmerman urged congressional staffers to focus on the impact they have and, as his brother did, to “let the negative view of politics roll off them, with grace and a smile, and instead focus their energy on service to their communities.”
“What he taught me in that short time is that small acts of kindness can make a tremendous difference,” Ben said.