Karen Langhart, a former Durango resident and longtime owner of the Red Snapper restaurant, died Thursday from an apparent suicide.
Langhart, 56, had a long history of fundraising and serving on boards in the Durango area.
She was the mother of Erika Langhart, who grew up in Durango and died at age 24 after suffering two sudden heart attacks in 2011 while using NuvaRing, a contraceptive.
Karen Langhart and her husband, Rick, led a legal and public-relations battle against Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical company that makes NuvaRing.
They appeared together on CNN to tell their story, were the subject of a Vanity Fair article and helped educate young women about the NuvaRing. They also were part of a class-action lawsuit against Merck but rejected being a party to a $100 million settlement to pursue a separate case that was dismissed Sept. 10 in a San Francisco court.
“She was one of my best friends and just such a gift to the Durango community,” said Sheri Rochford Figgs, who worked with Karen Langhart to start TLC for FLC, a fundraiser for Fort Lewis College. “Not only did they support Fort Lewis, but just about every nonprofit in this community. ... I just loved her so much. The world lost a good one.”
Langhart won the 2005 Morley Ballantine Award, which acknowledges individuals who help women realize their potential. Past winners of the award pick the next year’s winner. Rochford Figgs was one of those recipients.
Langhart was most proud of her two children, Erika and Kyle, Rochford Figgs said.
“When her daughter died, part of her died,” she said. “I can’t imagine how hard that was for her, because when you have a child, it’s your whole life.”
Erika Langhart was an intern for state Sen. Ellen Roberts, who described Karen Langhart as a strong force in the business community, generous toward nonprofits and a great friend to many.
“Karen was always a strong force in our community and seeking out the best for the people who lived in Durango,” Roberts said.
The Langharts opened the Red Snapper, a seafood restaurant in Durango, in 1985. They owned it until 2005 when they sold it to John Sheehan of Durango.
“When this thing happened with her daughter, it overwhelmed her,” Sheehan said Friday. “I know it was pretty devastating for her when it happened, and I think in the end it just overwhelmed her.”
In addition to starting TLC for FLC, Langhart was involved with Mercy Regional Medical Center Foundation Board, worked on behalf of Riverview Elementary and Durango High School PTA’s and helped Volunteers of America Safe House.
Rick Langhart also was heavily involved with the community, serving on Durango City Council, the Durango Area Chamber & Resort Association and as president of the Durango Restaurant Association. Efforts to reach Rick Langhart for comment were unsuccessful Friday.
The Langharts moved from Durango in about 2010 to the Phoenix area. The Maricopa medical examiner had no records for Karen Langhart, and further details of her death were not available Friday evening.
Al Harper, owner of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, who worked with the Langharts on a couple of business partnerships, described Karen Langhart as one of the nicest, most joyful people he has met.
“I’m in shock about it,” Harper said.
“You couldn’t meet a happier person. Even in tough times, she was just a happy person, but the loss of her daughter – she just never seemed to recover.”