Olthea Ludwig “Lee” Hart, the wife of former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, died Friday at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood after a brief illness. She was 85.
Hart, a former teacher, campaigned for her husband’s senatorial runs in 1974 and 1980. She also campaigned for his bid for the U.S. presidency in 1984.
“She was amazing with volunteers and staff. She was the person in the room who made everyone feel great,” said Bill Shore, a former Gary Hart political staffer who is a family friend. “She was a super warm person.”
Born in Lawrence, Kan., on Feb. 20, 1936, she spent her formative years in Kansas City, Mo. Olthea Ludwig graduated from Bethany Nazarene College in 1958. She married Gary Hart that summer.
While Gary Hart entered graduate school and earned a law degree, Lee Hart taught high school English in Milford, Conn., according to her family. The couple spent three years in Washington D.C., where she gave birth to their two children, Andrea and John.
The family moved to Colorado in 1967, and Lee Hart became involved in a variety of community endeavors, eventually including her husband’s campaigns.
“She was fiercely protective of Gary. She always made his causes her causes,” Shore said.
Lee Hart led a political, and public life, which included travel and meeting a great many people. She always remained grounded in family life and was a stern but fair and loving mother.
“She was very tough and very nurturing,” said John Hart, her son. “There were times when she was a mom. There were times when she was a friend. She was always there to comfort us. She meant a lot to us in so many different ways.”
Gary Hart ran for president a second time, for the 1988 election, but his run was derailed by an extramarital affair that became public in 1987. Lee and Gary separated for a short time, but they got back together and remained married. Their life changed going forward, stepping away from the public limelight to a more private life in Colorado.
“They had been through a lot, all the highs and lows, just a part of being human,” Shore said. “They were at their best in love and more than that they were best friends for all these years. In the end, they were watching out for each other’s best interest. They wanted to be together and wanted to make it work. That was a testament to how strong that love and friendship was.”
A Kittredge resident for 36 years, Lee Hart loved nature and wildlife, especially birds, her family said. In retirement, she traveled widely, with her husband and family, visiting Europe, Africa and the Middle East. In her 60s, Hart realized a lifelong dream and hiked and climbed steep jungle hills in Uganda to observe a mountain gorilla family.
John Hart recalled that his mother enjoyed taking long walks in the foothills of Jefferson County around her home. She also had a deep devotion to her fellow Coloradans.
“She had a dear love for the state,” John Hart said. “She loved people, and she loved being out meeting people.”
She is survived by her husband, Gary; daughter Andrea Leigh Hart of Lakewood; son John Warren Hart of Kittredge; sister Martha Keys; and two grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may be made to Share Our Strength, or the Evergreen Audubon Society.
A private funeral service and burial will be held in Evergreen.