Carrie Hamburg and her husband used to slow dance in the kitchen of their Ukiah home on weekday mornings, with no music playing, greatly embarrassing — and inspiring — their four children.

"I've never seen two people more in love in my life," said Laura Hamburg, the couple's oldest child.

Carrie Hamburg, formerly an unwed single mother in New York City's impoverished Hells Kitchen, became a congressman's wife, a musician and a political activist in her own right.

Hamburg, 66, died of cancer at her Ukiah home on March 5. A public memorial will be held later this spring.

Dan Hamburg, a Mendocino County supervisor who served a single term as North Coast congressman in the early 1990s, was his wife's caregiver during her final days.

"She approached her death with sadness," he said, "but also with acceptance and even excitement. In a sense, she has been preparing for this her whole life."

Carrie Hamburg shunned the spotlight, but had a keen sense of politics, her husband said, acknowledging that she edited — and improved — everything he wrote.

"People don't realize how political she was," Hamburg said. "She was always ready to challenge convention, and she was always pushing me forward."

The Hamburgs were arrested together in Ohio in 2004 while protesting alleged voter fraud by the George W. Bush campaign, and spent 111 days at a tribal protest of a proposed radioactive nuclear waste dump in Ward Valley in 1998.

Carrie Hamburg hobnobbed with celebrities, including Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, during her husband's congressional term.

At a White House Christmas party in 1993, she approached Bianca Jagger, told her she reminded her of a friend back home and kissed her on the lips.

"Bianca loved it," Dan Hamburg said. "Carrie could be totally outrageous and totally pure at the same time."

Her life began in much humbler circumstances as a runaway from her mother's home in Manhattan who never finished high school and had three children by age 20.

The family lived in a walk-up apartment in Hells Kitchen in the 1960s, but Hamburg took her children to New York City's art and history museums and public library. "I never felt unsafe," Laura Hamburg recalled. "She was ferocious as a mother."

Seeking a better environment, Hamburg moved west and in 1971 settled in Redwood Valley, where a group of Stanford University graduates, eschewing conventional careers, had started an alternative elementary school called Mariposa School.

Dan Hamburg, then a barefoot hippie, was one of the school's founders, and Carrie became his teaching assistant and later a teacher at the school, which closed in the 1990s.

In 1974, the couple married on "a wonderful day with sun and hail, Blood Marys, belly dancers and even a streaker," Dan Hamburg said. "It was perfect."

They moved to Ukiah, where Dan Hamburg's political career started with an unsuccessful bid for the City Council, followed by his first term on the Board of Supervisors in the 1980s. He was elected to the board again in 2010.

An accomplished pianist, Carrie Hamburg learned calligraphy and how to play a two-stringed Chinese violin called an erhu while the couple lived in China in the 1980s.

Fascinated by the world and its people, Hamburg read books three at a time, focusing on history, nature and spirituality. "She was more learned than anyone I've ever known," Laura Hamburg said.

She also took in stride her husband's moniker as "the hunk on the Hill" during his stint in Congress, when People magazine named him to its list of "50 most beautiful people."

"Mom and I got a complete chuckle out of the whole thing," Laura Hamburg said.

Survivors, in addition to her husband and daughter, are her other daughter, Elizabeth Hamburg of Ukiah; sons, Kirt Hamburg of Sacramento and Matthew Hamburg of Ukiah; sister Deborah Moore of Ukiah; a niece and nephew and six granddaughters.

—Guy Kovner