Barry Nestande, chief of staff to John Benoit, dead at 49

Barry Nestande — longtime chief of staff to former Sen. John Benoit and the brother of Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert — has died at 49.

Nestande collapsed from a heart attack while working out at a gym in La Quinta last Friday, March 19. He was taken to the hospital and was pronounced dead that afternoon.

He was the only chief of staff Benoit ever had, joining him when he was first elected to the Assembly in 2001. Nestande followed Benoit to the Senate in 2008 and then again last year when Benoit won election to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.

“We were closer than most brothers,” Benoit said in a statement.  

Nestande was born in Virginia in 1960. The family later moved to Orange County, where Barry and Brian got their start in politics walking precincts for their father’s Assembly campaign in 1969. Bruce Nestande lost that race, but went on to be an aide to Governor Ronald Reagan and executive director of the California Republican Party before holding the seat in the 70th Assembly District from 1975 to 1980.

Barry Nestande tried several roles in the 1990s before making his career in politics, including insurance agent, stockbroker and assistant to a church pastor. In his spare time, he enjoyed numerous outdoor activities, including off-road dirt biking, hiking and surfing. He also loved jazz and travelled to New Orleans several times.

He is survived by his wife of seven years, Merrilee, his son Brett, 6, and stepson Tyson, 21, as well as his father Bruce and stepmother Pam, brother Brian, niece Sophia, nephew Hayden, and half-sisters Gabrielle and Francesca.

A celebration of his life will be held on Friday, March 26, 2010, at 10:00 AM at Southwest Community Church, Fred Waring and Washington, Indian Wells.

Barry’s mother Beverly founded Beverly’s House, a shelter for young women leaving foster care. In lieu of flowers, the Nestande Family is requesting that donations be made to Beverly’s House, c/o YWCA of Orange, P.O. Box 689, Orange, CA 92866, or, The Coachella Valley Rescue Mission, P.O. Box 10660, Indio, CA 92202.

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