Hillary Clinton's Best Friend Since Childhood Dies Suddenly at 72: 'She Was Our North Star'

"Betsy had been sick for sometime, but this was still pretty sudden," a source close to both women tells PEOPLE

Hillary Clinton (left) and Betsy Ebeling. Photo: Chicago For Hillary/Facebook

Betsy Ebeling, the lifelong best friend of Hillary Clinton, died Sunday in Arlington Heights, Illinois, after a lengthy battle with breast cancer, The Chicago Sun-Times reports.

She was 72, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Ebeling and the former secretary of state, 71, had been friends since 1958, with the former there by Clinton’s side through her political rise and even casting the Illinois delegate votes for Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Ebeling’s death comes a little over one month after the death of Clinton’s 64-year-old brother, Tony Rodham.

On Tuesday, Clinton shared the obituary for Ebeling published by the Tribune. “A lovely tribute that captures what made Betsy Ebeling, my dear friend, so special to so many of us,” Clinton wrote. “She was our north star.”

“Betsy had been sick for sometime, but this was still pretty sudden,” says a source close to both women. “It’s so sad.”

“From the moment I met Betsy in sixth grade she was my dear friend,” Clinton tells PEOPLE in a statement. “We went through the ups and downs of life together, and she offered loving support and wise advice every step of the way. She had a real gift for friendship and an unrivaled ability to connect with anyone through her kindness and her sense of humor.

“I will miss her every day.”

Close friend Kathy Burgess told the Sun-Times that Ebeling’s death was unexpected as she had seemed unfazed by her continued cancer treatment and had been planning a “slumber party” reunion of friends in Indiana in recent weeks.

“Betsy had been having treatments, but nothing slowed her down. But something hit her a few weeks ago,” Burgess said. “Betsy was always there for all of us, encouraging us, and was with Hillary at her brother Tony’s funeral last month.”

During a varied career that saw her work with the American Bar Association, Democratic National Convention and as a Spanish teacher, according to the Tribune, Ebeling made many lasting connections.

“My mom didn’t have any acquaintances,” her son Colin told the paper. “Everyone who knew her was her friend, and they could always count on her to be welcoming, loyal, nurturing and kind. To myself and my sisters, she was the most deeply loving mother on earth.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker also mourned Ebeling on Twitter, praising her for dedicating her career to “advancing human rights” in the state and “fighting for a better future for people across our nation.”

“Like her many friends, I loved Betsy for her kindness, sense of humor and her genuineness,” he wrote. “I am heartbroken to lose my friend. My condolences to her family and the countless friends she leaves behind.”

Illinois Rep. Robin Kelly wrote on Twitter that her life, “like so many others, was enriched by Betsy Ebeling and her friendship. Our community is better because of her.”

Ebeling and Clinton became friends in sixth grade after meeting at Eugene Field Elementary School in Park Ridge, Illinois.

Added Adrienne Elrod, a former senior adviser for Clinton: “Betsy Ebeling was an extraordinary, kind, smart woman. The kind of person anyone is lucky enough to have by their side as their best friend. I was lucky enough to get to know her – especially during the 2016 campaign- and am devastated she’s no longer with us 💔”

“We have been friends through all of these years. Each other’s weddings. Babies being born. Parents sick. Parents dying,” Ebeling said in a 2016 Clinton campaign video.

She told Frontline that same year that Clinton’s house served as her “second home” growing up and she formed a close bond with Clinton’s parents, Hugh and Dorothy Rodham.

“She’s been a constant in my life, someone that I, if I really analyze it, could always depend on, because I knew who she was,” Ebeling told Frontline. “Both she and Bill have been extremely generous with their friends on this journey that they’ve been on.”

Ebeling again spoke of the pair’s friendship in a 2017 essay for Teen Vogue, published in an issue guest-edited by Clinton.

In her essay, Ebeling recalled their childhood years riding bikes and listening to The Beatles, as well as the time they saw Martin Luther King Jr. speak in Chicago and when they attended the 1968 Democratic National Convention together.

Hillary Clinton, Betsy Ebeling
Hillary Clinton (left) and Betsy Ebeling in 2016.

“I can’t help but take it personally when people attack my friend. If they could just meet her, they would understand what makes her so special,” she wrote.

In what she called “one of the most incredible moments” of her life, Ebeling was the one who, through tears, cast the Illinois votes for Clinton during the roll call at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where Clinton became the first female presidential nominee of a major political party.

“I felt her parents’ presence in the room,” Ebeling wrote in Teen Vogue. “I kept imagining the two of us as sixth graders, never believing the country would nominate a woman for president, let alone one of us! I pulled myself together and said, ‘This one’s for you, Hill!’ ”

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