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Margaret "Peg" Kovar, Walnut Creek's first female mayor, died Friday. She was 77.

Kovar, a 45-year resident of Walnut Creek, died from complications following surgery at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Walnut Creek.

Kovar was not only a mayor and councilwoman, but left a legacy that helped build a foundation for women in Contra Costa County, according to her longtime friend, former Mayor Gwen Regalia.

"She was a pioneer," said Regalia. "She was more than just a somebody."

Active in the League of Women Voters in the 1960s, Kovar became involved in Walnut Creek politics after a developer proposed to build condominiums on what is now the Shell Ridge Open Space. She helped lead a group to get a $6 million bond passed to purchase the 1,800 acres of land so it could remain untouched forever. Kovar Trail on Shell Ridge is named for her.

"It was the right time, " Kovar said to the Times in 1999. "It was before sky-high inflation and before Proposition 13. People actually put their hands in their pockets and agreed to buy it."

She went on to become the first president of Save Mount Diablo. Shortly after that, Regalia talked Kovar into running for City Council. Kovar said she would do it as long as Regalia managed the campaign. So out they went, each having a 4-year-old child at the time, they held more than 70 coffees and rented an office downtown for their campaign headquarters.

"Let me tell you, the men, and some of the women, in this town thought (a woman running for council) was outrageous," Regalia said.

Kovar, 38 at the time, defeated the seated mayor. She would go on to serve three stints as mayor, once while she was pregnant with her fourth child.

"The guys (on the council) said 'you can't be mayor and have a baby,' and she said 'Jim was mayor and had a baby,' " said Regalia. "That's how she was, assertive without being aggressive."

During her time as mayor, Kovar helped lay the groundwork for the Lesher Center for the Arts and helped create the two redevelopment agencies in the city. In 1982, she ran for state Assembly against Bill Baker, but lost.

Kovar left the council in 1985 when her husband was moved to the Pentagon for two years in Washington D.C. But when she came back to Walnut Creek Kovar was involved as ever.

She went on to serve on the Walnut Creek Arts Council, the Chamber of Commerce board, museum director of Shadelands Historical Museum, executive director of the Diablo Valley Foundation for the Aging and served 14 years as the Executive Director of the Contra Costa County Mayors' Conference. She later was involved in her church, Walnut Creek's Action for Beauty Council and Sister Cities.

Behind her all the way for 48 years of marriage, was her husband Fred Kovar, he even walked precincts to help get her elected in the early days. The pair met in St. Louis when she worked in the psychology department at Washington University where Fred Kovar was a graduate student.

They met on a double date, said Fred Kovar.

"She was the other guy's date," he said.

They moved to Livermore when Fred Kovar got a job with the Lawrence Livermore lab. But in 1966 they moved to Walnut Creek because Peg Kovar loved the city, he said.

"She liked the dynamism of the town, the beauty of the surrounding hills and the people in the city," he said.

Peg Kovar leaves behind her husband, four children and four grandchildren. Services will be held 10 a.m. Thursday at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Walnut Creek.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.