Gary Hart, an assemblymember and state senator from Santa Barbara, died on January 27 of pancreatic cancer, his family announced on Friday. He was 78 years old.

Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Hart was a teacher and a politician who used his understanding of the real-world environment of schools to legislate needed reforms in education and in related fields, such as women’s and children’s issues. A graduate in history from Stanford University and with a master’s in teaching from Harvard, Hart taught high school social studies at Santa Barbara High School and also taught courses in government at Santa Barbara City College, as well as Tougaloo College in Mississippi and CalState Sacramento.

Inspired by John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, Hart joined Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 presidential campaign staff and, like McCarthy, was opposed to the war in Vietnam. Hart brought his progressive ideals to the California Legislature as an assemblymember in 1974 and state senator in 1982, working toward increased funding for schools and decreased class sizes and authoring bills to further childcare and child support. His interest in the environment led to protections for the coast and for wildlife, and Hart served on an early version of the Coastal Commission.

After serving at the state level for 20 years, Hart ran an unsuccessful bid for Congress against Bob Lagomarsino, who dominated the seat through 10 terms in office. He held office again in 1999-2000 as Governor Gray Davis’s Secretary of Education.

Hart leaves his wife of 52 years, Cary Hart, their three daughters, and six grandchildren. A date for a memorial service will be determined at a later time. The In Memoriam submitted by his family can be read here.

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