Obituary: Former mayor Evelyn Hart remembered as one of Newport’s ‘great dames’

Evelyn Hart, in an undated photo, poses for a picture.
Evelyn Hart, in an undated photo, stands in front of the OASIS Senior Center with her dog, Lady Jane, who she adopted from the Newport Beach Animal Shelter.
(Courtesy of Robyn Grant)

Evelyn Reese Hart was called Newport Beach’s sweetheart.

Born in Phoenix, Ariz. as Willie Evelyn Reese on Jan. 24, 1931, Hart grew up in Oklahoma, but eventually would move to Eugene, Ore. before moving to Pomona, Calif. and eventually settling down in Newport Beach in the 1950s where she’s remained ever since.

Hart served on the City Council for 16 years, including a stint as mayor from 1983 to 1984. Prior to that, she worked at the Newport Beach Police Department and at Hart’s Sporting Goods, the family business of her husband of 65 years, John.

She first started city service with Newport Beach‘s park and recreation commission before moving onto council. She is credited with spearheading the campaign for the $15-million reconstruction of the OASIS Senior Center, where an event center is named after her.

Hart was also a founding board member of the Friends of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter, which will begin operations in early 2023.

She was named citizen of the year in 2007, which she jokingly said “ought to be called year of the granny.”

Her daughter, Pam Weaver, said she’s learned new things about her mother every day in the memories shared with her and her family since Hart died on Nov. 23 while trying to recover from a stroke.

“Every time somebody writes about her, I go, ‘She did that too?’ She was the president of every city function there was,” joked Weaver in a recent interview. “Everyone who was associated with my mom loved her.”

Weaver remembers her mother as someone who always loved animals, noting that Hart used to bring home strays — “She even brought home a skunk once,” Weaver said, laughing — when she worked at the Newport Beach Police Department. She was a great cook, dabbled in astrology, an exceptional beader and loved to lay in the sun at Mother’s Beach.

Robyn Grant, of the Friends of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter, and Evelyn Hart and Jean Watt.
Robyn Grant, of the Friends of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter, and former mayors and honorary groundbreakers Evelyn Hart and Jean Watt, from left, share a laugh during the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Newport Beach Animal Shelter.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

She estimates her parents owned 70 boats over their lifetime, Hart’s favorite being the Florence B, which sank off of Catalina Island. She loved to make wood carvings with her husband, was a good fisherman and skilled with a knife.

One of Hart’s favorite songs was Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight.”

Fellow FONBAS board member and upcoming Councilwoman Robyn Grant remembered Hart as one of the three “great dames” that shaped Newport Beach into what it is now alongside Marian Bergeson and Jean Watt.

“She knew everybody,” said Grant, noting that Hart was highly visible in the efforts to establish the Newport Beach Animal Shelter and its fundraising efforts. “She was a great, what I call, friend-raiser and that leads to great support for any organization.”

Grant said she spoke with both the Harts the weekend before her passing, and John and Evelyn were reminiscing on the earliest days that they lived in Newport Beach, where they came together and raised their five children — Michael Hart, Patricia “Patti” Hayden, Jim Hart, Weaver and Janet Brooks — who have all since left their hometown.

She called the Harts a founding family of Newport Beach, adding that “We would not be the city we are without these founding people.”

“It was such a loss. She was a dear mentor and everyone thought that Evelyn was their best friend, including me,” said Grant. “I’m in a group of many, many people who held Evelyn so dear ... every animal that gets adopted from the shelter will be recognized as Evelyn participating in making that happen. Her life will continue on in that way.”

In a living history project recorded May 5 this year that is hosted on the Friends of OASIS website, Hart said, “I have goals. I don’t just step into something without wanting to get something done.”

No services are planned at this time. In lieu of flowers, the family asked donations be sent to the Newport Beach Animal Shelter.

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.