Beatrice Miller Romer, a longtime first lady of Colorado and a passionate advocate for early childhood education and services, died Sunday in Denver after a long illness, her family said Tuesday. She was 93.
Known to family, friends and the public as Bea, Romer was the state’s first lady for 12 years during the governorship of her husband, Roy Romer, a Democrat who left office in 1999. In 1964, she helped found Montview Community Preschool and Kindergarten, which is still open today and sits a block and a half away from where Bea Romer lived with her daughter Liz in her later years.
Romer’s family did not provide details about her illness.
During her husband’s time in office, Romer opened doors for childhood advocates and encouraged what was then a groundbreaking focus on the importance of children’s earliest years in their development.
She and Roy Romer had seven children, and her attention extended outward. Bea came alive, Liz Romer said Tuesday, when she was sitting on the floor, chatting with a child.
“You knew you were in the presence of somebody who had an extraordinary gift and understanding in connecting with young children and what they needed — and how just to delight in the experience and the amazement in those small bodies and brains,” she said.
Bea Romer was born in 1929 in Laramie, Wyoming, to Arthur and Lova Miller, the family said in a statement Tuesday. Arthur Miller was a pastor whose ministry took the family from Wyoming to Nebraska and, later, to Denver. Romer went on to earn a degree in childhood development from the former Colorado A&M, now Colorado State University.
In 1964, the same year Bea Romer founded the racially integrated preschool, Arthur Miller invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak before a packed house at his church, Montview Boulevard Presbyterian.
Romer’s interest in children and their early development stemmed from her own motherhood, Liz Romer said, as well as her formal education. Bea Romer later earned a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Colorado Denver in 1989.
When Roy Romer took office in the late 1980s, he “tapped” his wife to take on early childhood education initiatives in the state, her family said in a statement. She advanced a focus on the earliest stages of a child’s development, and she and her team created a pilot program to help “blue collar children” access preschool, said Barbara O’Brien, who served as Colorado’s lieutenant governor under Gov. Bill Ritter and is a former Denver Public Schools board director.
That pilot later would expand to cover thousands more children. Romer also helped bring the Head Start program to the state for the first time, her family said. Both were precursors to more recent state initiatives that include universal access to preschool.
In a statement Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis praised Romer’s “dedication to advancing early childhood education (that) shaped a generation of Coloradans, improving our state now and in the future and creating a legacy that will always be remembered.”
As first lady, O’Brien said, Romer built a team of passionate childhood development advocates around her and empowered them to push for progress here, O’Brien said.
Her interest and support opened doors — literally — for nonprofits and organizations working on the issue. O’Brien remembers meeting in the Palm Room of the governor’s mansion and marveling at the access.
Romer’s team members “were just as devoted to the early childhood issues (as Romer) was, and she gave them kind of a carte blanche to go figure out the best way to go improve things, especially for low-income and minority children,” O’Brien said.
Beyond her advocacy, Romer was always game for an adventure, Liz Romer remembered.
Her mother loved Colorado, and the Romers had a special — and secret to most outsiders, even now — place up in the mountains, where Bea and Roy took their seven children. The place is still a playground and haven for the family, which now includes 22 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
She’s also survived by her husband, who wasn’t available for an interview, and all seven of their children.
Romer shied away from centering herself or her achievements in conversation, her daughter said. Instead, she focused on her family and her advocacy. In her later years, Liz Romer said, she stayed engaged with children by volunteering to read to them or by walking by the playground at the school she’d founded decades before.
“Particularly in the last year, just really watching any time one of her great-grandchildren walked in the room … her demeanor and her smile were absolutely unique to those experiences,” Liz Romer said. “It literally carried to her last day. This is her connection and this is where her joy arrived.”
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