Two-term county Commissioner Nancy Stuart faces a new chapter in her life as her days as a Grand County policy-maker wrap to a close come January.
She learned her days as a dutiful public official were limited during the Republican primary in June when challenger Merrit Linke unseated her. Stuart says she had not suspected at that time she would be ousted from the race even before the race had begun in her view.
"It wasn't the electors who un-elected me. It was my own party," she said.
It's the party for which she has served as chairman, vice chairman and secretary through the years. It's the party for which she has worked at countless fundraisers.
"To me, I paid my dues," Stuart said. "To me, I should have had a lot more support within my party than I did."
She senses that perhaps she's no longer conservative enough for her fellow Grand County Republicans. She fears the local party has shifted too far to the right in recent years, parallel to the party on a national level.
"I have a bitter taste in my mouth for the party," she said candidly. "I have Republican values and views, but for sure I don't have the views of the Republican Party in Grand County."
It's the kind of no-nonsense, honest utterance from Stuart long heard in the commissioners' boardroom. On making decisions, Stuart often has fallen back on her deep knowledge of the county she's known her entire life, and she's never been shy to say it like she sees it.
In conversation with the grandmother of eight, she rarely tells a story without dropping the names of several old-timers, or speaking of a certain county road where ... or perhaps of a place that was once this or that, before it was owned by so-and-so who was such and such.
She attended early schooling at then-Hot Sulphur Springs Elementary, and on the first year the district started sending buses around the county to collect students, Stuart attended school in Granby, followed by high school at Middle Park High. She grew up in a time when college for girls was a rarity, she said, and married right out of high school to Paul Stuart, who served in Vietnam while the couple expected their first-born.
The couple eventually was blessed with five children, but experienced tragic losses. When their eldest son Aaron was 5 years, described as "little monkey" who could "climb anything," he died from an accident at home. Life dealt the Stuarts yet another devastating blow just several years later, when their eldest daughter Kristen at 22 years and her fiance were walking home in Granby after having celebrated her birthday. Kristen was struck by a car and died.
"It raises the values of what is trivial and what is real in your life," Stuart said.
She learned through these dark periods how the small-town community has a way of embracing and caring for her family and others.
"Friends and acquaintances come out of the woodwork to see what they can do to make the situation better," she said. "That's what's nice about living around here."
The community came forward again, she said, when her husband Paul developed Hodgkins' disease, which was believed to be from exposure to Agent Orange while he was in Vietnam. He still suffers from the after-effects of chemotherapy, Stuart said, even though he has been clear of the disease for decades.
But the Stuarts have persevered, drawing on the fortitude that comes along with living in these Rockies. They carved out a life for themselves in Granby proper, where they have resided through it all at one address, passed down from her in-laws.
"It's a really old house," Stuart said. "All kinds of things pop up. Every one of my children has lived in this house, and I imagine it will always be in our family. It's a place where they can always come home and feel a little comfort. It's what makes it home instead of a house, I guess."
A self-proclaimed "jack of all trades, master of none," Stuart has held many jobs in Grand County, from being a meat-cutter at her father-in-law's grocery store years ago in Granby, to managing a liquor store, to florist, to working in the county planning department. And after serving eight years as commissioner, Stuart now plans to search for yet another job.
She's proud of what the county has accomplished during her time on the board, namely its stance on water and the county's present financial footing, she said. As far as water, Stuart said she believes the county has done right in negotiating with the water buffalos to the East.
"We'll get something instead of absolutely nothing," she said. "Or, should we sit back and see what Washington decides for us? None of them have or never will set foot in Grand County.
"We've gotten more from these two entities (Denver Water and Northern Water) than we ever thought we would when the 'war' first started," she said.
During her role as commissioner, Stuart was appointed to the state's Court Security Board and to the state's Emergency and Medical Trauma Advisory Council. She also served on Colorado Counties Inc. and the Colorado West Mental Health board.
She has become an advocate for state support of mental health facilities and for preschool funding at the regional level, saying in the long run, government would save in the costs otherwise associated with under-cared for and under-educated citizens.
Her approach, she said, has always been based on common sense, and rarely on political leanings.
"Backdoor politics and stuff, I tried not to do," she said. "I always tried to be pretty darn open. I always tried to serve with respect. I can walk away with a very clear conscious; all I tried to do was give the taxpayers their money's worth.
"It's been an honor to serve the people of Grand County for the years I did."