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  November 8, 2000

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Hart family feud
With WWF suit settled, dead wrestler's widow lashes out at in-laws

By ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun
Martha Hart announces the lawsuit in June 1999. - AP

  Shortly after a Missouri judge put an end, of sorts, to her 18 months of hell, Martha Hart took her two young children to the place their father died.

Holding their little hands as they entered Kansas City's Kemper Arena yesterday, mom wanted little Oje, 8, and Athena, 5, to see for themselves the 20,000-seat stage that played host to their father's final, desperate breaths.

Glancing up to the rafters from which husband Owen Hart plunged 23 metres to his death as part of a wrestling stunt gone horribly wrong in May 1999, Martha could hold her tears no more.

Overwhelmed by the hollow justice that will see World Wrestling Federation Entertainment pay her family a reported $18 million US as part of a wrongful death suit settlement, she hugged her two fatherless children and wept.

"I wanted them to see where their father died because over the years I didn't want them to look back and have any questions unanswered," said Martha yesterday, following the emotional morning which included a two-hour court appearance to have the settlement approved.

"I want them to have complete closure. When they grow up they'll remember where it happened, the (legal) fight; and remember how it all started and ended. Now that it's over I feel relief that I don't have to carry the stress and burden anymore... but it's a very empty feeling."

Although memories of Owen will forever guide the trio in some fashion, Martha is hopeful the settlement will help begin a new chapter in their lives -- a chapter without the Hart family.

"This is not a close-knit family and I'm not part of it anymore -- we carry the same last name but that's as far as it goes," said Martha who praises Bret, Keith, Stu and Helen Hart as the only ones who sided with her in the messy legal battle that divided the family.

"They betrayed Owen by working against me and his children and I will never consider myself, or my children, a part of that family anymore. I will respect Owen's parents and I will stay in touch with a select few of them but people need to know that Owen was a white sheep in a black family."

While several family members are -- or want to be -- employed by the WWF, Martha said her fight for justice dealt not only with the wrestling conglomerate, but also with in-laws looking out for their own self-interest.

"I plan on doing a lot of good in this city and I want my name distinguished from that family," said Hart, who told the Sun yesterday she will set aside at least $2 million to help the less fortunate through the Owen Hart Foundation, which she will direct.

"With the foundation, I feel Owen didn't die for nothing. He'd be proud to help people who are trying to help themselves and that makes (an out-of-court settlement) OK in my head and my heart."

While a large chunk of the settlement will be placed in trust until the children turn 21, Martha insists the portion left over to help her raise her children will not change her in any way. She won't quit her job at the post office and she wouldn't dream of hiring a nanny. She'll simply continue working towards her psychology degree at the U of C, and do what she can to live a normal life.

"We truly won here," said Martha, almost as if trying to convince herself. "My thrust from the beginning is that the WWF had to recognize what they've done to me and my children. I will not carry any bitterness -- I can't. I don't hate anybody. I know in my heart I did everything I could for Owen. I think he'd say, 'quit crying for me because I'm OK. It's you that has to wake up every day and face challenges.'"

What she wouldn't give to wake up and face the one thing that has always mattered most -- him.

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