Councilwoman on her abuse: 'I often had bruises, black eyes'

SEATTLE -- For the first time, a local leader is opening up about being a domestic violence survivor. King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert says she nearly died at the hands of her ex-husband.

The oldest of four children, Lambert was born to parents who were married 65 years. She was 18 when she met her first husband and settled into a life where secrets remain at home.

"In those days you didn't tell anyone you were having these kind of problems. You got married, and that was it," Lambert said.

She was in it for life until she realized staying with her husband could mean her death.

"Sometimes he came home and he was wonderful and charming. Other times he came home and was not wonderfully charming," Lambert described. "He would become violent. I often had bruises, black eyes. The kids would be abused, their heads beat against the floor, thrown across the room."

Lambert quietly endured behind closed doors in a California town, in part because she didn't think she could win custody of her two step-children.

"I stayed longer than I should because I wanted to protect those children from being with their dad," she said.

She gave birth to two more children and after years of abuse, finally tried to break away.

"We were already separated and he came over to the house and began to try to strangle me. And if one of the children had not intervened, I'm quite sure I wouldn't be here today," she said.

Lambert believes his intention was to kill her.

She and her children were out of town within days of that attack, in part because she'd been building her escape plan. She wants all victims to create a plan and have a kit that includes all the necessary paperwork and information, similar to preparing for a natural disaster.

"There's so many things to get together," she said. "The sooner you start, the easier it's going to be. Just knowing you have your plan and you have your kit together, makes knowing that, if you have to leave, your thoughts can be more on getting everybody in the car rather than, 'what do I need to take?'"

Stories that start this way, rarely lead to such a public life. With help from friends, Lambert moved to Washington. She says she was still living scared for about 15 years. But when she came out of hiding, she did it in brave fashion. She was elected to the state House of Representatives and now serves on the King County Council.

In her two decades of public service, she has been a champion for domestic violence survivors. But in campaigns, not once did she identify herself as one.

"I'm able to say that's a closed chapter," she explained. "I learned. My children are beautiful. They're successful. They're wonderful. And we are all stronger because of what we've gone through. It's not something that i want to hold me back or to be a hindrance to me. I choose to, as the Bible says, to think of things that are lovely. And, those days were not lovely."

Lambert decided to share her story at length for the first time to benefit Lifewire, the largest service provider for domestic violence victims in the state. She gave a moving speech at Lifewire's gala this month, helping the agency raise money while sharing her important message.

"If somebody is violent with you, there is no room for error. don't come back. You hit me, you slug me, don't come back," she said. It is a mantra she shares now with her grandchildren - who are being raised in a family where there's no more fear.