Olthea “Lee” Hart, the wife of former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, has died at 85 years old. She died Friday at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood after a brief illness.

Hart was born Olthea Ludwig in Lawrence, Kan., on Feb. 20, 1936, and she spent much of her childhood in Kansas City, Mo. She graduated from Bethany Nazarene College in 1958 and married Gary that summer.

After graduation, Hart taught high school English in Milford, Conn., to put her husband through Yale. The pair later moved to Washington D.C. for three years for Gary’s political career and eventually settled in Colorado in 1967.

Hart and her husband had two children, Andrea Leigh Hart and John Warren Hart.

“What a beautiful and wonderful soul she was,” said Doug Wilson, senior foreign policy advisor for Gary Hart’s presidential campaign. “May Lee rest in peace.”

Hart campaigned for her husband during his successful runs for the Senate in 1974 and 1980 and his unsuccessful run for the White House in 1984. 

Her solo campaign appearances drew large crowds, and she was described by the media at the time as "savvy" and "with good political instincts."

In college, Hart ran multiple student government campaigns and her family had a political history: Her father served as general secretary of the 870,000-member Church of the Nazarene, and her sister was elected to Congress.

“She was fun, she had a lot of energy and she was great with people,” said Michael Stratton, senior policy director of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, who worked closely with Hart’s family and previously represented her husband.

Gary sought the Democratic presidential nomination twice, losing narrowly to former Vice President Walter Mondale in 1984 and withdrawing in 1988 after reports that he had had affairs.

Hart spoke openly and unapologetically about her and her husband’s marriage issues, telling the Washington Post in 1984 that they separated twice and each dated other people during those periods.

“Lee was a pillar for us in the Senate office and Gary's presidential campaigns. A strong woman at a time when it wasn't the norm,” said Ginny Terzano, who served as assistant press secretary for Gary Hart when he was senator.

After the pair reunited, they remained married for 63 years, living outside of the spotlight in their home in Kittredge.

Between her husband’s campaigns, Lee Hart also sold real estate for Coldwell Banker in the late 1970s and 1980s.

After her retirement, Lee Hart spent her time enjoying nature and traveling with family in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. She realized a lifelong dream in her 60s, hiking through the jungle in Uganda to observe a mountain gorilla family.

“She was an extraordinary woman who led an extraordinary life and was married to an extraordinary man,” Stratton said.

Hart is survived by her husband, their two children, two grandchildren and sister, former U.S. Rep. Martha Keys.

A private funeral service and burial for Hart will be held in Evergreen.

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