Illustration by Ryan Alexander-Tanner

WE TEND to forget something vital when we gripe about the people we elect to office, especially within our own communities.

Yes, many are strivers. Some are shills and figureheads. Some are blind paladins. Others are helpless wonks. But in the end, (almost) all of them are something else, too: neighbors and human beings, fragile and occasionally beset by tragedy, just like any of us.

We forget that because it's simpler to forget, but also because events rarely challenge us to remember. That's a luxury we've not had in Portland over the past several days. That might be okay.

Last Wednesday, just before the Portland City Council was set to meet, Commissioner Amanda Fritz received the type of random news that could just as easily be stalking you or me: Her husband and the father of her three children, Dr. Steve Fritz, had died in a collision while commuting through the rain to Salem.

At first, Fritz turned to her colleagues for help. Commissioner Nick Fish joined Fritz in a car driven down Interstate 5 by Police Chief Mike Reese. Mayor Charlie Hales' spokesman Dana Haynes, his voice cracking, did the solemn job of confirming why, precisely, camera-blocking paper had gone up over the entrance to Fritz's office. Staffers from other offices were dispatched to help keep the public’s business moving as smoothly as possible.

The difference in city hall was remarkable. The tension that insiders say had grabbed the building for much of the spring and summer—after disputes over road maintenance and housing money and the upcoming budget surplus and other political slights real or perceived—appropriately softened.

Support and grace have since become the marching orders, like they did after another tragedy three years ago: the suicide of then-Commissioner Randy Leonard’s daughter, Kara.

"This has had a bigger impact than we realize," one source told me—and it's not hard to see a chance for Hales and Fritz to mend their often-fractious professional relationship.

Soon, the rest of Portland was sharing in Fritz's grief. And how could we not?

Fritz has always been the most accessible public official in Portland. She's a former neighborhood activist who still acts like one—attending countless community meetings and answering the blur of emails she receives each day.

Flowers flooded in. Then, on Sunday, September 28, hundreds of us gathered for a public remembrance of Dr. Fritz—a warm, curious, and dedicated man, by all accounts, who gave as much to his family as he did to the city's arts community and his patients at the Oregon State Hospital.

Memorials are about those who've gone. They're also about those who remain. Fritz laughed and smiled. She also wept—maybe the hardest when Fish, her closest ally on the council, recounted what she'd given up to serve. Her savings. Her privacy. Nights and weekends with her husband, small moments she'll never get back.

Those are things we take for granted. And while it's true that public service is supposed to come with sacrifices, Fish was correct when he reminded us that this was "one sacrifice too many."

Next time, let's try not to forget.