UT locksmith shares key to happiness

Elizabeth Hlavinka

Behind campus’s closed doors rest the Gutenberg Bible, artifacts from space and millions of dollars of research materials. Each of these doors has its own unique lock — and Lee Hart holds their keys. 

As supervisor of UT’s Lock and Key Services, Hart creates new keys and checks them out to staff members to unlock campus buildings. His services extend to 202 buildings as distant as the Winedale campus, almost 80 miles away. In total, he is accountable for 59,000 locks and their corresponding keys.

Hart is originally from Denver, Colorado. But after he met his wife, Carol, he gave his snow gear to his neighbor, packed his things and moved to Austin in 1978. Originally a mechanic, Hart transitioned into the locksmith business by answering a newspaper advertisement. As an apprentice, he swept floors until he learned the trade.

“It’s a puzzle,” Hart said. “All guys want to be Houdini and be able to get the handcuffs off.” 

Since Hart began his career at UT in 1986, he’s responded to thousands of requests and even co-taught a class about locks to engineering freshmen. But Hart said the most rewarding part of his job is helping students and faculty in need.

“If a lady’s purse is locked in a file cabinet, she can’t go home until we show up,” Hart said. “Usually when we walk into a room, people are smiling — it’s rewarding.”

In 2014, Hart volunteered for the PAWS animal shelter, providing new locks for the entire facility. When he retires, Hart said he plans to house several dogs from the shelter on the three acres of land he bought with his wife.

“When I got here, I had no idea what it meant to bleed orange,” Hart said. “I certainly do now.”