“Now put on your big girl panties and ‘Woman Up!’” Erika Louise Langhart (1987 – 2011)

R.J. Gallagher Jr.

“Now put on your big girl panties and ‘woman up!’” — Erika Louise Langhart (1987 — 2011)

If you’re lucky, the start of a new year comes with the promise of the best year yet. Fresh starts. New horizons. Growth potential. Opportunity knocking. Health and happiness. Onward and upward.

This column may not sound like that’s where it’s headed, but it is, so please read on. Then share it with as many people as you know. All of them.

If you are female, this column is required reading. If you know a woman, this column is required reading. And pay attention, there is a test at the end.

During this past week, a very dear friend of our family, and one of the most amazing women I have ever had the privilege to know, made the decision to take her own life. The story behind Karen Langhart’s journey is a journey so complicated it defies my capability as a writer to capture. But Karen would drive me to go there. So here I go.

Karen and Rick Langhart’s daughter and Kyle Langhart’s sister, Erika Louise, was born two weeks after our daughter, Reilly, in 1987. Throughout our 50-year friendship, Rick and I were always very competitive. We even placed a bet on who would become a father first, and I won this one by just 12 days.

Erika was an amazing person. Full of life, wide-eyed and ready to engage in the everyday. In 2011, at the very young age of 24, Erika passed away. It was Thanksgiving Day. What killed Erika was a double pulmonary embolism. Hospital records cited the NuvaRing as a risk factor for Erika’s multiple pulmonary embolisms.

Immediately, Karen jumped into action and dedicated her life to informing women of the dangers of such products and challenging the pharmaceutical industry. She made her mark in so many ways that she became a figurehead for this very important movement. She generated media coverage, spoke at conferences, started foundations and worked tirelessly. If you had a minute, so did Karen. But like so many pioneers, the weight of such a crusade took its toll on her, although you never would have known it. When you had the pleasure of being in her presence, her unwavering dedication to saving women’s lives was what drove her. It was her life’s passion.

Over the past 60 days, our family had the fortune to work very closely with Karen as she set up her latest foundation, “Woman Up. Knowledge is Power. Own Yours.” The foundation name is based on the Erika quote at the beginning of this column. When she was younger, it was Erika’s way of saying, “Take control of each situation, step up and do something about it.”

Jenna Holcomb, the lead designer at our firm, developed the new foundation’s brilliant identity. I provided strategic planning and messaging platforms. My son, Bo, created a T-shirt line for their initial conference. My daughter, Reilly, and wife, Nancy, managed the entire process. Karen had a way of getting things done, or getting others to get things done. It took our collective efforts to keep up with her. Little did we know how very special this experience would become for our family.

Last week, our family received several packages from Karen. One package included hand written notes and images from our 35-year friendship. Then we opened the second package. The note, which had our brand identity on the outside, was titled on the inside, “Working together to make a difference in women’s lives.” The opening sentence was as follows, “By the time you receive this note, I will have joined Erika. I consider it an honor to give my life to help save the lives of others.” Karen was 56.

So here is the test. If you want to save women’s lives, go to this website: InformedChoiceFor Take a read and then Google “Karen Langhart.” You will be amazed at what you learn, and Karen’s goal to educate and inform on this vital subject matter will be the start of a new revolution to save women’s lives. Volunteer to pass this critical message along to others, and you will make the ultimate difference.

Karen always believed that collective efforts can bring about positive change. I’m with Karen on this one.

Philantopia is a monthly column of the Aspen Times focused on philanthropy and community involvement. R.J.’s always open for ideas. You can reach out to him at