Bea Romer, Colorado first lady who championed state-funded preschool, dies at 93

FILE - Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, left, and his wife first lady Bea Romer talk to reporters after a speech on Friday, Feb. 6, 1998, in a Durango, Colo. hotel. In a press release from Michele Ames Consulting, Bea died on Sept. 10, 2023. She was 93. (AP Photo/The Durango Herald, Jerry McBride, File)

DENVER (AP) — Former Colorado first lady Bea Romer, who helped establish public funding for preschool to help the state's neediest children in the 1980s, has died. She was 93.

Romer, the wife of former Democratic Gov. Roy Romer, championed early-childhood education nationwide throughout her life. She died in her daughter’s Colorado home on Sunday of respiratory failure, according to her family.

The Colorado Preschool Project, as it was then called, was an early incarnation of what's steadily grown into a universal preschool program for Colorado children that launched in 2023.

“Children were the light of her life. Nothing compares to the smile on Bea’s face in the presence of a child. She never stopped thinking about how to make the world better for them,” said Liz Romer, one of Romer's seven children.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who helped shepherd the state's latest preschool expansion, said Romer's “dedication to advancing early childhood education shaped a generation of Coloradans.”

"Her passion and kindness inspired all those around her, especially myself,” Polis said in a statement.

Romer was born in 1929 in Laramie, Wyoming. Her mother and her father, a pastor, eventually moved to Denver and Romer graduated from the Colorado State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, now Colorado State University, in 1951 with a degree in childhood development.

In 1964, Romer co-founded a still-running preschool and kindergarten, going on to co-found a primary school and teacher prep program in Denver. When her husband became governor in 1987, she brought her early childhood expertise to the office of first lady, seeking to support children who were most likely to fall through the cracks.

“Way before I understood the importance of early childhood education, Bea was already leading the charge. ... Her leadership made possible all of the improvements in the childcare system and the preschool system that we see across our state,” said Barbara O’Brien, founder of the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

Romer served on eight national boards to improve early childhood education, including the Family Resource Coalition of America and the National Association for the Education of Young Children, according to a news following her death.

Beyond education, Romer visited near every continent save Antarctica, helmed a number of book clubs, and found joy roaming the Denver Art Museum, her family said.

Romer is survived by her husband and her seven children, along with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.