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Denver political matriarch Barbara Gessler succumbs to cancer

Author: Joey Bunch - December 1, 2017 - Updated: December 3, 2017

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GesslerBarbara Gessler and her son, former Secretary of State Scott Gessler. (Photo courtesy of Scott Gessler)

She was the petite mother of former secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate Scott Gessler, but Barbara Simich Gessler stood in no one’s shadow politically or otherwise. She was an outspoken Republican beloved by many in the party. She died after Friday after a battle with lung cancer. She was 78 years old.

Scott Gessler said his mother would be cremated but he plans to hold a memorial to celebrate her life in January. (Colorado Politics will update with this news.)

Among her political roles, Barbara Gessler was the sitting District 1 director to the Colorado Federation Republican Women, as well as a former officer in the Denver Republican Women’s organization.

She was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer last summer and given only months to live. She moved in with her son and was cared for by staff he brought in.

“It’s been tough,” he said Friday night.

But his mom was surrounded by good friends and good memories of her life, he said.

“The Republican women and friends support meant so much to her,” he said. “It was unreal. People were always around.”

Barbara Gessler was always one of them, outspoken and out front on political causes. She was considered an ally of the Log Cabin Republicans, the LGBTQ branch of the party, the organization wrote on its Facebook page. She was warm on the inside at the same time, her son said.

“Mom was just as passionate about being involved,” Scott Gessler said. “But she laid it on the line. She was a pistol. You always knew exactly where she stood, but at the same time she had a very open heart.”

After she sold her home in the Chicago area, where Scott Gessler and his sister grew up, she moved to Colorado in 2003. She bought an older 22-unit apartment building in Denver with plans to manage it. She was willing to rent to people who were working their way out of the prison system, usually moving in from a halfway house, Scott Gessler remembered worrying.

No doubt, her firmness and non-nonsense mothering was important to some former inmates. Many of them considered her a mentor and friend because she took a chance and rented to them and offered them encouragement and advice, as well.

“She supported a lot of those guys, too,” he said. “She was always willing to give people a chance and to treat them with respect.”

Barbara Gessler grew up on the east side of Detroit and moved to California when she was a young woman. Her son said she was Lucille Ball’s hairdresser for a time, before moving back to Michigan and marrying his father. They moved to the Chicago area with their young family in 1969.

Barbara Gessler is also survived by her daughter, Hollus Gessler, her two children, Parker, 10, and Jacob, 8, as well Scott Gessler’s children, Sofia, 9, and Eric, 3.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.