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Stacey Pawlowski, a wife, mother — and a heck of a Republican fundraiser — dies

During the memorial slide show, but before the actual service began at Stacey Pawlowski's funeral, a lobbyist leaned over and handed his business card to a city councilman. "Call me. I want to talk to you about your campaign," he said.

The councilman nodded, and everyone in earshot tittered, because Stacey Pawlowski wouldn't have had it any other way. She would have loved to know that political business was conducted at her funeral.

Pawlowski died last month at 39, after a short but fierce struggle with cancer. She was a lot of things, but most knew her for her work as an ass-kicking Republican fundraiser, both locally and nationally. John McCain was her first client, and by the end, she'd worked for everyone from Steve Forbes to the Rio Salado Foundation in Tempe. Her modest estimate was that she'd raised several million dollars for candidates and even more for causes.

Earlier this summer, Pawlowski sat down for what was to be the first in a series of interviews designed to preserve memories for her son Jack. (She also agreed that it could be used for a story about her for New Times.)

Pawlowski talked for three hours straight, only taking breaks for more green tea (the coffee table was stacked with equal numbers of books about parenting and health food) and barely showing a hint of fatigue. It was easy to see how she could still be working, even soliciting clients.

Dressed in her typically preppy outfit of jeans and a button-down, Pawlowski sounded just like her old self — still with the Valley Girl "likes" and the kind of language you'd expect from someone accustomed to backroom politicking — but she did look different, with hair missing from cancer treatments, revealing a large, zigzag scar up the back of her head. She was annoyed that her face was puffy from steroids, pointing to a gorgeous family photo on the wall, taken when the cancer was in remission.

Pawlowski learned she had breast cancer when she was 37 1/2 weeks pregnant with Jack, her only child; he was delivered by C-section almost immediately and, very soon thereafter, she underwent a double mastectomy. After aggressive treatments, she was given a clean bill of health, but the cancer showed up again several times in her brain and then her liver.

She's a planner, so as soon as she found out she had cancer, Pawlowski started planning. Her husband, Will Scholz, had some ideas of his own.

"My husband — so cute — said, 'We'll go on a world cruise,'" Pawlowski said. She didn't want to. "You know, I've already seen the pyramids, I've been to Greece, I've done all that."

She wanted to take Will to Prague, "because he really wants to go to Prague. But I told him what I want to see before I die is to see my son graduate from college. That's what I want to see. Hell, I'll take high school. At this point, I'll take fifth grade — you know, I'll take kindergarten."

Jack is 18 months old.


Stacey Pawlowski might have gone to USC, but she was a Phoenix girl. Her grandfather owned Los Olivos, still the best car wash in town. Her father, Stan, was a well-known dentist (now retired); her mother will always be known as Nanny Marlene to the hundreds of kids she helped raise. And although Stacey has two sisters, older Stephanie and younger Stanya, she was always "The SP," as noted on the license plate on her first fancy car, a BMW she bought with money from her business.

Part of the Xavier Mafia — a group of women who became friends in high school and who pretty much run some parts of this town, politically speaking — Pawlowski remembered going to Washington, D.C., in high school and getting bitten by the political bug. (Although she also recalled, laughing, that she ran for student council "like seven times" and never got elected.)

She was also a cheerleader.

"But of course," she said, cracking herself up again. "Have you met my voice? I had big hair, that kind of stuff."

That must have played well at USC, where she got a car and an internship with then-Senator Pete Wilson, in one of his California offices.

One of Wilson's elderly constituents had been taken to the hospital by ambulance and lost her dentures along the way.

"So she called the Senate office to try to find her teeth, and it was a call that I got and so I made, like, half a dozen calls. I found her teeth for her. We had them delivered. And she sent me a picture," Pawlowski paused and grinned, "like this, with her teeth."

Someone noticed her and said, "Get this woman working on a campaign." That led to an internship in D.C.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.