U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney was overwhelmed by grief Saturday after learning her husband had died suddenly during a mountain-climbing expedition in China.
"She's still numb but she's heartbroken," said George Arzt, a longtime family friend who said President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton had both called to express their condolences.
"They were unbelievably intertwined," Arzt said of the Maloneys. "He was always at her side."
Clifton Harlan Wells Maloney, 71, a millionaire investment banker, was an avid mountaineer who ran the New York City Marathon 20 times.
He reached the 27,000-foot summit of Cho Oyu, the sixth highest peak in the world, on Thursday, then came down to a base camp at 23,000 feet where he died in his sleep on Friday, Arzt said.
Maloney, speaking through tears, said she was talking with her daughters and unable to discuss what happened.
"We're trying to get him off the mountain," Maloney told the Daily News. "It's just so terrible."
Maloney was with his longtime climbing partner and guide Martin Schmidt when he passed away. Schmidt sent word through the family that Maloney's last words before going to sleep were, "I'm the happiest man in the world. I've just summited a beautiful mountain."
Cho Oyu, which means "Turquoise Goddess" in Tibetan, is on the border of China and Tibet. Maloney was in China at the time of his death, Arzt said.
In a posting on his blog about two weeks ago, Schmidt said the pair of mountaineers were making steady progress toward Cho Oyu's summit.
"The best words we have to say from Tibet is that we are happy, acclimatizing very well - Clif [sic] not having any headaches, body aches, tooth aches or brain aches and that we are on schedule with our plans," he wrote.
Arzt said removing Maloney's body from the mountain will be complicated because China doesn't allow helicopters into its air space.
He said Clinton planned to intervene, but the State Department was unable to immediately confirm that last night.
Carolyn Maloney, 63, who represents the upper East Side, recently abandoned plans to challenge U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for the seat formerly held by Clinton.
Her husband was her closest political ally and served as treasurer for all her campaigns, said Trudy Mason, a Democratic state committeewoman and longtime family friend.
"What Carolyn said to me this morning was, 'He was my rock,'" Mason said. "Of all my friends, they are among the happiest and most long-term couples that I know. They were truly a partnership in everything they did."
Maloney had planned to host an event last night to thank supporters of her Senate effort, and several of them arrived at her apartment who had not heard the news.
"This is really a shock," said Liz Abzug, 57, daughter of late U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug. "He was in very good shape. I'm sure she'll get through it, but this is devastating."
The couple, who married in 1976, have two daughters, Christina, 28, a lawyer, and Virginia, 21, a student at Princeton.
Clifton Maloney graduated from Princeton and Harvard Business School and served in the Pacific as a Navy lieutenant on destroyers from 1960 to 1963.
He worked many years at Goldman Sachs then founded his own investment company, C.H.W. Maloney & Co.