Former state Sen. Gary K. Hart died from pancreatic cancer Thursday in his home in Sacramento. He was 78.
Mr. Hart represented Santa Barbara and Ventura counties as a senator for 12 years. Prior to serving in the government, he served as a social studies teacher in Santa Barbara.
Mr. Hart also served as the California secretary of education under Gov. Gray Davis.
“Gary was widely respected and admired. In fact, I cannot recall a single person in Sacramento who ever said a critical word about Gary,” former Gov. Davis said in a Los Angeles Times report. “Gary was my first and arguably most important appointment as governor. Education was and always will be my passion. We both believed that while only one student could be the best, every student could get better.”
Just weeks after Mr. Davis won the 1998 race for governor, he selected Mr. Hart to be his secretary of education. Mr. Hart and Mr. Davis were roommates at Stanford and served together in the state Assembly.
Mr. Hart was elected to the Senate in 1982 following a campaign that pitted incumbent Assembly members from Ventura and Santa Barbara counties against each other. Mr. Hart represented the district encompassing the two counties until he retired from the Senate in 1994.
Mr. Hart’s expansive public service record includes environmental protection and women’s rights.
However, Mr. Hart’s devotion to education marked his life. He authored legislation that would assess the need for a public university in Ventura County as well as campaign for what is now the joint UC-CSU learning center in Ventura, which would later evolve into a Ventura satellite campus for Cal State Northridge and ultimately to the establishment of Cal State Channel Islands in Camarillo.
During his time as a senator, he served as chair of the Senate Education Committee. In addition, he successfully authored bills to enhance professional development for teachers, reduce class sizes, establish higher academic standards for students including a landmark law in 1992 that allowed for the creation of California’s first public charter schools.
The Ventura County Star quoted Sen. Hart as saying, “Our democracy could only thrive with a strong public education system where students from varied backgrounds could learn to work together and every student, with quality instruction and hard work, had opportunities to pursue their dreams and succeed.”
Mr. Hart was born Aug. 13, 1943, in San Diego. His family moved to Santa Barbara when he was a teenageer. He graduated from Santa Barbara High School, where he excelled in multiple sports, particularly football, in which he received all-CIF honors.
Mr. Hart attended Stanford University on a football scholarship where he graduated with a degree in history. He also received a master’s in teaching from Harvard University School of Education.
Mr. Hart and his wife Cary were married for 52 years. They met on the East Coast, when they were both working on the presidential campaign of Sen. Eugene McCarthy. They had three daughters, Elissa Hart Mahan, Katherine Hart and Laura Murray, along with six grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may be made to the SCOE Resiliency Scholarship Program, Sacramento County Office of Education, P.O. Box 269003, Sacramento, CA 95826.email: email@example.com