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Barry Nestande, chief of staff to former Republican Sen. John Benoit and brother to Assemblyman Brian Nestande, died Friday. He was 49.

The familiar figure in state GOP politics was pronounced dead Friday afternoon after suffering an apparent heart attack at the gym, according to an obituary published in The Desert Sun of Palm Springs.

The Republican strategist first joined Benoit's legislative staff in 2002 and continued to work as the former senator's top aide on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. Before that he worked in insurance and finance, according to a statement released by Benoit's office.

Benoit described their relationship as "closer than most brothers" and rooted in a "shared faith in God and our country."

"From the earliest days of my first campaign for the State Assembly in 2001, until lunch yesterday, Barry Nestande was by my side," he said in the statement. "Working together as a team, we felt we could very effectively represent the interests of our constituents."

Nestande, whose father Bruce also served in the state Legislature, is survived by his wife Merrilee and sons Tyson and Brett.

UPDATE: Memorial services will be held 10 a.m. Friday at the Southest Community Church in Indian Wells. In lieu of flowers, the Nestande Family is requesting support for Beverly's House, a program to support young women leaving foster care that was founded by Nestande's mother. Donations can be made to YWCA-Central Orange County, P.O. Box 689 (Orange, CA 92856) with "Beverly's House" in the memo line



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