Kathleen Garn, wife of former Utah Sen. Jake Garn for the past 41 years, died Thursday in Salt Lake City. She was 68.
“Kathleen was fond of saying that Jake had three loves in life — politics, flying and her,” the Garn family wrote in a statement.
According to the family, Kathleen and Jake Garn were enjoying dinner Thursday evening when she suddenly collapsed. She was taken to University of Utah Hospital, where she died.
“Senator Garn is obviously broken-hearted,” the statement said.
Political figures in Utah paid their respects via Twitter.
“I join countless Utahns in mourning the passing of Kathleen Garn,” Hatch’s office wrote in a Twitter post. “She was a remarkable woman who was not only a tremendous support to former Senator Jake Garn, but his equal in every way. Lovely, thoughtful, and considerate to all, she will be dearly missed.”
Gov. Gary Herbert’s office tweeted: “Heartfelt condolences to our dear friend Sen. Jake Garn at the passing of his sweet wife Kathleen. We are grateful for her life of service and devotion. She will be missed.”
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams tweeted a message that said, in part, “For 40 years, she and Jake were partners in public service to our state. Their marriage was an incredible love story and together they contributed so much to our community. I knew her as someone who was very accomplished in her own right and who created a loving home for the children from their first marriages and the children she and Jake had together.”
A tweet sent on the Utah Republican Party’s account read: “Very saddened to hear of the sudden passing of former US Senator Jake Garn’s wife, Kathleen Brewerton Garn. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and their family at this time.”
Kathleen Brewerton was born Feb. 28, 1950, in Salt Lake City, to Joseph and Mary Brewerton.
She married Garn in April 1977 after his first wife, Hazel, died in a car crash. Kathleen Garn had been divorced for about a year from Jeff Bingham, who worked on Garn’s D.C. staff.
“We were friends first,” Kathleen Garn said of her relationship with Garn, in a 1992 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. “Jake was older, his family almost grown. When we started dating, I told him I wasn’t through having a family and that I wanted a partnership.”
Kathleen and Jake, who was 17 years her senior, formed a blended family. Kathleen’s son, Brook, was 4 years old when they married. Jake and Hazel had four children: Jacob, Susan, Ellen and Jeffrey. Jake and Kathleen went on to have two more children, Matthew and Jennifer.
“She won’t tell you how great she is,” the senator said in 1992. “I will. She makes the family work.”
Kathleen and Jake had contrasting personalities, she said.
“Jake juiced an orange and apple for breakfast. I had a KitKat and a Diet Coke,” she said in 1992, when the senator was ending his third and final term. “I wanted this house [in the Avenues in Salt Lake City] for the swimming pool. Jake is a baker and wanted it for the kitchen. He swims laps and keeps track. I keep track of time, too. Every 30 minutes, I turn over on my float.”
She wasn’t so relaxed when her husband flew on Space Shuttle Discovery in 1985, becoming the first sitting member of Congress in space.
“I thought I had things under control,” she said. “I had been with the astronaut wives, going to lunch, going to dinner, going to briefings. We practically lived together. But I hadn’t seen Jake and I kept missing his calls. I lost it. … I needed to tell him I loved him, to say goodbye. He called at 3 the morning of the launch. I had a pit in my stomach until I knew Jake was safe.”
Kathleen Garn is survived by her husband, their seven children, 29 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren — with another grandchild and great-grandchild due this fall.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.