(CNN) -- A friend of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said she was "always willing to talk to her constituents," and that her returning to Tucson for a town hall meeting in the days after Congress had convened was typical.
Giffords, 40, was one of 18 people shot at a Tucson, Arizona, grocery store Saturday at what she called "My 1st Congress on Your Corner," in a tweet shortly before she was shot.
Giffords' condition still was critical after surgery Saturday for a gunshot wound to the head, but doctors were optimistic of her chances for surviving.
"She was an incredible public servant," said Sylvia Lee, president of Pima County Community College in Tucson. "She was a moderate Democrat who was willing to talk to both sides."
Giffords is married to NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, a Navy captain who is scheduled to fly the April space shuttle mission to the international space station. Lee said that Giffords has no children but was stepmother to Kelly's two children.
CNN's Dana Bash had a conversation with Giffords on Friday at the Capitol and Giffords told her that she had taken a trip to Rome with her family over the holidays and had been able to attend Midnight Mass in the Vatican.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, called Giffords a "wonderful, perky, woman."
Nadler said that she is "very popular in not a terribly popular Democratic district.
Giffords narrowly beat Tea Party-backed Republican Jesse Kelly in November, 49-47 percent.
Lee said that Giffords and Rep. Raul Grijalva, a fellow Arizona Democrat, had received threats in the past.
Grijalva confirmed the threats to CNN affiliate KVOA, "But for her to say, I will not go out there and do my job and be with constituents because of this -- no, never.
"She is fearless," he said.
Known as a "Blue Dog," or moderate, Democrat, Giffords was a key swing vote in last year's health care reform debate. She didn't make up her mind to vote for the legislation until the final days before the ultimate passing vote.
A glass panel at her Tucson office was shattered the day after the vote. Spokesman C.J. Karamargin told CNN then that staffers suspected someone shot a pellet gun at the glass.
Giffords is serving her third term in Congress, first elected in 2006. She generally voted with her party but voted against the auto bailout bill and was one of 19 Democrats to vote against former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's bid to become the Democrats' minority leader in the wake of last year's midterm elections that returned Republicans to power in the House.
Giffords served on term in the Arizona House of Representatives and is the youngest woman elected to the Arizona state Senate.
She was employed by Price Waterhouse Coopers and served as CEO and president of El Campo Tire, her family's business, before she was elected to the Arizona House.
Giffords and Grijalva were two of the three candidates that MSNBC's "Countdown" host Keith Olbermann was suspended for making campaign contributions The other candidate was Democratic Jack Conway, who was running for the U.S. Senate seat won by Rand Paul.
CNN's Dana Bash, Lisa Desjardins and John Helton contributed to this report