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Charmette Bonpua, chief of staff to former Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, was memorialized on the Assembly floor Monday as a tough-as-nails complement to the low-key former legislator.

Bonpua, 44, died Feb. 13 from an aneurysm suffered during a family trip to Las Vegas. She had left the Capitol to serve as Wesson's chief of staff after the termed-out lawmaker was elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 2005.

Wesson was keynote speaker at Monday's memorial, attended by Bonpua's family and dozens of friends and acquaintances.

"I was not lucky to have Charmette as my chief of staff," Wesson said. "I was blessed to have Charmette as my chief of staff."

Wesson described his longtime aide, the daughter of Philippine immigrants, as a determined former field worker who was so poor as a high school student that she owned only one pair of gym shorts that had to be washed nightly.

Bonpua, who once was fired from a fast-food restaurant job while struggling to perfect her English, ascended through the ranks of U.S. schools to graduate from Columbia University, said Wesson.

"Charmette turned out to be an American success story," Wesson said, describing her as a "4-foot-10-inch powerhouse."

Wesson promised to name in Bonpua's honor a planned skate park for which she helped secure funding.


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