When I was a sophomore in high school, I was on my school’s Constitution Team. Each year more than 100 students applied for the 30 available spots on the team, so it was an honor to be awarded a position on the team. It was an intense, year-long commitment, in which you attended a three-hour class every Tuesday night and met with your unit at least once during the weekend.
All the work was done in preparation for district, state and hopefully national competitions. The heat was especially high at Lincoln, because in the 10 years we had been competing, there had never been a year where we had not placed in the top ten in the nation.
The program was run by a man named Hal Hart. He had attended Lincoln in the 1950’s and had met his wife Sally there when they were teenagers. He was a mostly-retired attorney who had a successful career and valued the importance of giving back to the community. So he started the Constitution program, enlisting the help of two other local lawyers and Mr. Bailey, the civics teacher at the high school.
The program was run like a first-year law school class (or so we were told). We had to stand when we wanted to ask a question and there was always the chance that we would be called on. We learned the Constitution and Bill of Rights cold, as well as the bounty of applicable Supreme Court decisions that altered the landscape of rights available to the people of this country.
The entire year I was on the team was a powerful learning experience. Not only did I gain a wealth of knowledge about constitutional law, I also learned how to work on a team and in small group. I learned first-hand how to travel en masse. And I learned how one man can have an immense impact on 30 students x 13 years.
My mom called me today to tell me that Mr. Hart died this last Wednesday of a massive heart attack at the age of 77. When she said the words, I gasped and I felt a clunk in my heart. I walked around all day feeling a little heavy with the knowledge that this wonderful, giving, smart and talented man wasn’t on the planet anymore. It’s been more than 12 years since I last interacted with him and I am still moved by the loss.
When our team went to DC for the national finals in the spring of 1995, Mr. Hart brought his wife along, despite the fact that she was blind and needed assistance with all things. I would watch the two of them together and was touched by the tenderness with which he treated her. Throughout the day I’ve thought of her, unable to imagine the grief she must be feeling to have lost the man with whom she spent nearly half a century.
Lawyer and ‘father figure’ Hart dies at 77 [Oregonian]