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Issue 43 – December, 2023

Remembering Hart Axley, the “Heart” of the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils

By Eleanor M. Spuhler

Much like Norm Peterson, the beloved character in the television show “Cheers” played by George Wendt, Hart Axley was often welcomed with warm greetings and admiration; and NAEPCs meeting and activities were certainly no exception.

Meeting Hart for the first time was a true experience.  Instinct tells you that you were interacting with someone very special, that you should listen to and learn from him, and that he was both interesting and knowledgeable.  It was also obvious that he was genuinely focused on learning as much about you as he possibly could… your life, passions, and work.  A special and long-term bond was often created in the first moments of meeting one another, an experience echoed by many.

Hart joined the NAEPC Board of Directors in 1968 and served the association until his passing.  While it’s hard to document all the initiatives and changes that were experienced during those 55 years, Hart’s wisdom is embedded within every facet of the organization, including the Accredited Estate Planner® designation, a patron program that assisted the organization through lean years, the strength of the relationships between the national organization and affiliated councils, and fulfillment of the very foundation of our mission:  excellence in estate planning provided a multi-disciplinary approach to client service.  Thoughtful comments and advice were a mainstay of his participation.

Outside of Hart’s professional work he lived a rigorous and exciting life.  Stories of his time on the ski patrol and those he met on the slopes, his abundant postcard collection, and an appreciation for Native American art were abundant.  The luckiest among us have experienced Hart and his enviable energy in his home state, acting as a tour guide and historian through the Denver area and his favorite places, visiting Red Rocks Amphitheater, the city of Golden, the Denver Botanic Gardens, and the Denver Athletic Club.  This desire to share the things that he cared about with those he appreciated was just one of the things that made Hart so special.

Not long ago and during the pandemic, Hart celebrated his 90th birthday on a Zoom call with family and people from all facets of his life.  For hours he entertained those in attendance with stories of his youth, life, and experiences while accepting birthday wishes with grace.

The joy of that party was contagious, for Hart and those who participated.  Out of this special birthday and event, Hartman Axley Day was born and each year NAEPC celebrates this special event on his birthday.

While the memories of those who knew Hart are different, there will certainly be similarities:  his beautiful voice and the joy that came from hearing him sing a toast, “God Bless America,” or “Danny Boy” as the organization remembered those who are no longer with us, or an impromptu concert; his love for snacks; the history we learned during board orientation meetings, and his passion for NAEPC and its success, to name a few.

Those who wish to learn more about Hart are invited to watch the 2018 recording of his reflections on his journey and service on the NAEPC YouTube channel, recorded the same year he celebrated five decades of service to NAEPC and joined the NAEPC Estate Planning Hall of Fame®.

The author wishes to thank Eido Walny, Mavis McKenley, and the NAEPC Publications Committee for their support in authoring this piece for the NAEPC Journal of Estate & Tax Planning.