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Nilda Pedrosa, who led notable Florida Republicans to victory, dies at 46

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 1/25/2021 Bianca Padró Ocasio, The Miami Herald

Jan. 25—Nilda Pedrosa, a top-ranking federal official from Miami-Dade County who led multiple Florida Republicans to victory, died Saturday night after battling cancer. She was 46.

Pedrosa, who served visible roles on U.S. Senate campaigns and congressional offices alike, is consistently described by friends and former colleagues as a kind and stubbornly optimistic companion. Throughout her work in politics, colleagues say Pedrosa was charismatic and worked well with Democrats and Republicans alike. She was passionate about the fight against human trafficking, child abuse, and human rights violations in Cuba.

Pedrosa grew up in Miami. She was born at Mercy Hospital to a Cuban American father and a Puerto Rican mother. She graduated from Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in 1992, and later attended Miami Dade College and Florida International University, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1996.

At FIU, she met her husband-to-be, Eliot Pedrosa, in a constitutional Law class in which they were both enrolled.

"So many people are reaching out to me with so many stories saying that she lit up their lives like she lit up mine," Eliot Pedrosa said. "We were college sweethearts."

In 1999, she graduated from New England Law in Boston. She went on to serve as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. She was also a senior adviser to former U.S. Senator Mel Martinez, becoming his point person on immigration reform.

Bondi says the two became "sisters" during the time they worked together from 2013 to 2019 and that she admired Pedrosa's optimism. During one office winter trip to South Dakota, Bondi recalls, the two Florida women were excited to see The Great Plains blanketed in snow. But although the temperature was in the single digits, it wasn't actually snowing, much to their disappointment.

So, Nilda being Nilda, Bondi said, she edited "falling snowflakes" into a photo of the two of them and sent it to Bondi.

"She would find the best in everything and she would always bring out the best in everyone," Bondi said. "Nilda had a heart of gold. Everyone who met her loved her."

Bondi said Pedrosa was behind her office's anti-human trafficking efforts, such as the office's annual conference on the subject. Bondi and Pedrosa both made a trip to Mexico City in 2014 to visit a shelter for mothers who survived sexual assault and for children conceived from sexual violence.

"She cared so deeply... she went anywhere in the world she could to fight human trafficking," Bondi said.

Pedrosa also worked as a policy adviser in the presidential campaign of former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2016.

She had most recently been named acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State under the administration of former President Donald Trump. Up until President Joe Biden was inaugurated, she was the highest-ranking woman at the State Department and the second Hispanic to serve as Under Secretary.

She also served as the White House liaison at the U.S. Department of State.

Her longtime friend, former U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said Pedrosa's role in electing Florida Republicans to Congressional office was crucial to many candidates.

"I don't think there was a single Republican candidate who was able to get elected years ago in Miami Dade without Nilda's enthusiastic support," Ros-Lehtinen said in a text message. "Nilda was a proud Republican, but she worked well with Democrats. She was political without being bitterly partisan."

In a tweet, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said he was "heartbroken" to hear of Pedrosa's passing.

"Nilda Pedrosa was my Chief of Staff for many years — she touched the lives of many and leaves behind an everlasting legacy. Praying for her husband, children, & entire family," he said.

Beyond her official duties, Eliot Pedrosa said his wife was passionate about charities like Amigos For Kids, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting child abuse and neglect, and organizations like the Cuban American Bar Association.

"In the last few years, I saw that passion for her children," Eliot Pedrosa said. "I've seen her touch so many lives because it was her nature to want to help people. And so she just did all the time."

Pedrosa is survived by her husband, Eliot, her mother, father, and her brother Rick Rodriguez. She also leaves behind her twin toddlers, Emma Rose and Elias, ages 2 1/2.

Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this story.

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