Lee Hart, Wife of Presidential Hopeful Rocked by Affair Scandal, Dies at 85

Lee Hart, the wife of former Sen. Gary Hart, whose 1988 presidential run infamously collapsed due to reports that he was having an extramarital affair, has died. She was 85.

Lee, a former English teacher, died on Friday at a hospital in Lakewood, Colorado, her family confirmed to The New York Times and the Associated Press.

A cause of death was not given, though The Denver Post reported she had been ill.

"She was very tough and very nurturing," her son told the Post. "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."

Born Oletha Ludwig in Lawrence, Kansas, on Feb. 20, 1936, Lee went on to marry Gary in the summer of 1958 and stood by his side as he decided to leave his job at a major Denver firm and, in 1970, join South Dakota Sen. George McGovern's presidential campaign.

Four years later, Gary won a seat representing Colorado in the Senate — which opened up a rift as Lee struggled alone to manage the careful balance of her career and raising their two children, Andrea and John. The couple even separated in both 1979 and 1981 but reconciled.

"Politics is lonely as hell," Lee once said.

Gary first sought the Democratic presidential nomination himself in 1984 but lost out to former Vice President Walter Mondale. He ran again for the 1988 race and was widely considered the front-runner — that is, until news reports of an extramarital relationship caused him to withdraw.

At the time, Gary was said to be having an affair with young Miami model Donna Rice. Gary denied it, as did his wife.

"I love my husband very much," Lee said during a campaign appearance in New Hampshire, per the Times. "I know Gary better than anyone else, and when Gary says nothing happened, nothing happened."

Gary officially dropped out of the presidential race in 1987. He later attempted to revive his campaign, and Lee gave her support.

"'I'm doing what I always wanted to do," she reportedly said at the time, "traveling with Gary." (The saga was the basis of a 2018 film starring Hugh Jackman.)

A family friend, Bill Shore, told the Post that despite the couple's troubles, their bond endured.

"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."

Lee is survived by her husband; their two children; her sister, former Rep. Martha Keys of Kansas; and two grandchildren.

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