11/11/2011 12:57 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Mary Kaye Huntsman Visits HuffPost, Talks Service And Family

Jon and Mary Kaye Huntsman's daughter Liddy was 8 when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The chronic disease can take an intense physical and emotional toll, and Liddy was having a tough time.

"She said, 'You know, you have no idea what I'm going through,'" Huntsman said. "And I thought, 'You know? I really don't. But somebody who has exactly what you have will understand what you are going through. So why don't we do something where we can reach out and help others who are being diagnosed?"

The pair went to a store, bought a bag and packed it with diabetes-appropriate snacks. They took it to a local hospital where Liddy sat with a 5-year-old who had just been diagnosed, sharing her experience and assuring him it wouldn't be too bad. In that moment, Huntsman said, she knew her daughter had learned the meaning of service.

Indeed, when Huntsman visited HuffPost Thursday to discuss family, activism and her husband (but not necessarily his politics), service was a theme she returned to frequently.

To the native Floridian, helping others is the tie that binds her large clan of two boys and five girls -- two of whom are adopted. Every night, Huntsman said, the couple encouraged their children to consider what they might do to make the world a better place.

After that first diabetes care package delivery, she launched a national program called Bag of Hope, which aims to connect children with the diabetes, and also with cancer, across the country. Huntsman also founded the Power In You program, which aims to tackle the 15 issues she believes put young people at risk every day, including eating disorders, poverty, disabilities and substance abuse. Again, the program aims to connect students dealing with these issues personally.

"That line that no exercise is better for the human heart than reaching down and lifting someone up -- I always think of that quote when we are out trying to make other people's lives better," she said.

That sense of activism propelled Huntsman to become a visible political wife. She said she decided early on that she would "put any selfishness aside" and get involved. If her husband is elected president, she said she plans to take programs like Power In You national, immediately.

Three of the couple's daughters have also been a campaign presence, taking to Twitter to -- as Huntsman puts it -- tap into a younger audience she believes has gravitated to her husband. They have been notably candid -- "Is it us? Or did everyone get a bad haircut for this debate?" they Tweeted on Tuesday -- and while Huntsman called them smart, spunky girls with "a lot of common sense," she admitted it does give her pause.

"I worry sometimes," she laughed.

Speaking Tuesday, Huntsman did not seem worried about her husband's sluggish start in the race, saying he is only just now getting a true, first-look as a candidate. The same traits she admired in him when she was a nervous student at a new high school in Utah make him an appealing candidate. He is a man of character and trust, she said, and just a nice guy. She recalled the first time John told her he loved her, in Jupiter, Florida -- after 28 years of marriage, she said, things just keep getting better.

But the candidate's true hero may not be his wife of 28 years, but another family member.

She said proudly, "When my husband is asked who his hero is, he always says it's Liddy."

Mary Kaye Huntsman