Politics '84 is a long way from Kansas for Oletha (Lee) Hart
LEE Hart, her long, brown hair tossing in the breeze, told the small crowd at Baptist Bible College that her husband, Gary, is the presidential candidate who could both ''carry the country'' and ''lead into the future.Skip to next paragraph
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''A new generation means all of us,'' she said, striking up a variation of her husband's campaign theme. ''It isn't chronological. It's a new generation of spirit, of creative thinking in resolving problems.''
Mrs. Hart, whose speaking style is more gracious than oratorical, soon ended her formal message and moved to the main objective of her short visit, spreading good will by mingling with the crowd. Cheerfully dispensing autographs, she repeatedly asked to be reminded of the date. ''Sixteenth. Oh yes, sweet 16, that's how I'll remember it,'' she said to herself.
Spotting a baby, Mrs. Hart said, ''Oh, you've got hearts on your dress. How wonderful!''
From first glance, Oletha (Lee) Hart cuts an image that contrasts sharply with that of her husband. While the Democratic senator from Colorado is ruggedly handsome and serious to the point of solemnity, his wife and former college sweetheart has an elegant and refined beauty and ready smile. While he is reserved and self-contained, she is extroverted and spontaneous.
''I express my feelings more quickly and demonstratively than Gary,'' she observed in an interview, while flying from Charleston to her next campaign stop.
''Gary is first of all an extremely serious, reflective person,'' she said, tracing those traits to the economic struggles of his family. She hastened to add, ''But he combines that with a sense of humor always. He doesn't take himself so seriously that he can't stand back.''
Born in Lawrence, Kan., in 1936, Mrs. Hart was reared in Kansas City, Mo. She described her home life there as warm and happy. Her father, Sylvester T. Ludwig, was an ordained minister and official in the Church of the Nazarene and for a short time was president of Oklahoma's Bethany Nazarene College, which both Gary and Lee attended.
''My mother (Clara Ludwig) was one of 10 children, born and raised on a farm, '' she said, noting that she has ''strong rural roots.''
Religion was the central focus of her early family life. That meant going to church on Wednesday nights and twice on Sundays. It also meant forgoing dancing, movies, and card playing.
''I have no regrets,'' she said of her religious training, although she and Gary now attend the Presbyterian Church. ''I'm deeply grateful, for it helped develop my thinking and make me the person I am today.''
Mrs. Hart's sister, former Kansas Rep. Martha E. Keys, recalls, ''Our father was democratic, warm, and outgoing. He taught us very much to make our own decisions.''
There were no hints in the Ludwig home that both daughters would end up in politics. ''Some of that early training, that good Protestant work ethic, gives you the feeling that you ought to do something worthwhile, that you ought to make a contribution,'' says Mrs. Keys, who now lives in Virginia.
Soon after graduating from college, Lee and Gary married and moved to New Haven, Conn., where he attended first divinity school and then law school at Yale University. The couple had little money. ''We were struggling,'' Mrs. Hart said, recalling that her husband took a job at the post office that sometimes meant working all night. Life eased a bit when she began teaching high school English.
Politics first entered their lives in 1960, she said, when ''John Kennedy turned a lot of people on to public service.'' The Harts were living at the married students' dormitory, where a group of couples gathered once a month for dinner and political talk. ''Most of his friends were for Adlai Stevenson or Richard Nixon,'' she said, remembering the heated debates on those occasions. Gary was a volunteer for the Kennedy campaign.
After the graduate school years, Mrs. Hart became a full-time homemaker, raising Andrea and John, born in 1964 and 1966. When Gary managed the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972, she took an active part as an alternate delegate to the nominating convention.
Gary's decision to enter politics didn't surprise her. ''He always was geared toward a life of service.''
She conceded that the choice has taken a toll on home life. ''Obviously when you're gone as much as he is, you don't have that much time'' for being a parent , she said of her husband. ''He loves his children deeply. He was always concerned about being gone and took quality time (with them).