Meg Whitman, the former eBay chief who's running for California governor, is taking a couple of days off from the campaign to be with family after her mother's death Monday night.

Margaret Whitman died in Lexington, Mass., after a short illness, the campaign announced Tuesday. She was 89.

In a statement, Meg Whitman — whose given name is also Margaret — called her mother "a beacon of integrity, loyalty and inspiration in our family."

The elder Whitman had an adventurous life.

During World War II, she volunteered for the Red Cross and ended up as a fully certified mechanic fixing trucks and airplanes in New Guinea. In 1972, she was a member of the second American delegation to China after President Richard Nixon's historic visit to that country.

Whitman is engaged in an expensive battle for the Republican gubernatorial nomination against state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who announced Tuesday that he had received the endorsement of former California Gov. George Deukmejian.

Deukmejian, 81, is one of only three living Republican California governors. Pete Wilson is chairman of Whitman's campaign. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is not expected to make an endorsement in the primary.

Deukmejian, who ran the state from 1983 to 1991, said in a statement that Poizner, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has the necessary skills to pull the state out of its budget hole and create jobs.

Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, said the endorsement is "helpful at two levels: First, it blunts some of the momentum that Whitman has been developing within the party establishment. Second, it reinforces Poizner's own efforts to position himself as the most conservative candidate in the race.''

Contact Ken McLaughlin at 408-920-5552.