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In the space of three weeks, Karen Mayne went from senator's wife to widow to senator.

How does someone handle such a transition?

In Mayne's case, with courage, passion and preparation, traits the West Valley City couple shared during their more than 40 years together.

On Nov. 25, Sen. Ed Mayne - a beloved Democrat and longtime champion of the underdog - died after an eight-month battle with lung cancer.

"When Ed was first diagnosed, we knew it was terminal," Karen Mayne said. "From that day, Ed was the journeyman, I was the apprentice - a loving husband preparing his wife to make the journey alone."

"He was so brave. He knew from Day One we were just buying time."

The pair met in high school, became sweethearts and built a life of service together. Now she continues on, in that same vein, without him.

"I'm Senator Mayne in a smaller package," she grins.

No doubt. He was a big bear of a man, standing 6 foot 1 inch tall, she's a petite 5 foot 2 inches tall.

In 1994, Ed Mayne won the Senate District 5 seat, which spans Kearns, Taylorsville and West Valley City.

"When the Senate job first opened up, Ed said he wanted me to do it," she explained. "But it was just not my time. Our family was younger."

When he died at 62, Ed Mayne had served 30 years as president of the Utah AFL-CIO and was one year shy of finishing his fourth Senate term.

A political team

"We shared everything about politics - we have a strong social conscience," Karen continued. "We always teamed to take care of our Senate district" - describing how they frequently divided duties to cover more ground.

In September, Karen had already begun to shoulder more of Ed's duties as his condition worsened.

"I was tickled pink when she came to our [mobile home] event in Taylorsville," said Tara Rollins, executive director for the Utah Housing Coalition.

"You could tell she understood the issue and had followed it, with him, for many years," Rollins said. "She got up and spoke from his heart."

Last month, those shared experiences eased the way for Sen. Karen Mayne as she took her husband's seat on the Senate floor.

"I enjoy the Legislature and understand how it works from the time I've spent with Ed," she said.

What stumped her, at times, were the little things.

"My biggest challenge was the tunnel" - a concrete maze that connects her office in the west building to the Capitol. "Now I can get in from the parking lot."

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle knew and loved Sen. Ed Mayne. While mourning his loss, they embrace his spouse.

"Ed and I were close friends," said Senate Majority Leader Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, reminiscing about kitchen table talks and spending time with him just days before he died.

Eclectic friends

Theirs was an unlikely friendship, Bramble acknowledged, a conservative Utah County Republican teaming up with a union boss from Salt Lake City. It took root in 1996 when Bramble served with Karen on a Utah Transit Authority board.

"We loved to debate on the Senate floor," Bramble said of his and Ed's philosophical differences. "Then we could joke about it and go have a soda pop."

Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, echoed those sentiments.

"Ed and I would go skeet shooting together and he'd beat me all the time," Valentine said. "He was a really good shot."

Valentine also appreciated Mayne's straight-shooting style of politics. He first become aware of the Mayne muscle in 1988 while serving in the House.

"Ed was a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO. I'd watch him in the back directing traffic for the minority party," Valentine said. The friendship grew from there.

"I miss him as a friend, but we love having Karen in the [Senate]," Valentine says. "She's not acting like a first-term senator. She hit the ground running."

Sen. Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake City, also remembers Ed fondly.

"I sat next to him during the last session," Jones said. "When a bill was being debated, he'd say - sometimes under his breath - 'How does this affect my people?' "

Jones now sees that same passion - to advocate for the underprivileged and underserved - in Sen. Karen Mayne.

"I told her that it feels like she's been here for years," Jones said. "She's not afraid to ask questions . . . and she gets it right."

Bramble described Ed Mayne as the "conscience of the Senate."

"He would always remind us of those with lesser circumstances," Bramble said. "Karen will fill that role admirably."