A sad, but in a way, a grateful, day at the Utah Capitol Thursday as more than 1,000 people – many of them political notables – gathered to remember former House Speaker Becky Lockhart in a formal memorial.
Lockhart’s death last Saturday, at 46, from a rare and always fatal brain disease shocked Utah’s political elite, her family, friends and colleagues.
“She is still our speaker,” said Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who will be sworn in as speaker Monday, the start of the 2015 Legislature’s general session. And in the hearts of many always will be.
Lockhart was active in her speakership up into December, and was only diagnosed with the disease several weeks before she died at her Provo home.
Lockhart was remembered as a strong woman, loving wife and mother, loyal friend, who mentored a number of women in various aspects of her life.
Her daughter, Emily Britton, served as her mom’s intern one session when she was speaker. Emily had just met her future husband, Max, through that internship.
And Emily recalled how fun and exciting it was to sit next to her mother on the House rostrum during floor sessions, whispering back and forth about Max, sharing his tweets and enjoying “girl talk.”
Catherine Dupont, a legislative attorney, spoke about how Lockhart was a role model and mentor for any number of professional women, who had to balance a demanding job with raising a family.
“We both know what it was like when “mommy was in session,”” said Dupont.
In fact, several speakers brought up that Lockhart, a sixteen-year veteran of the House, the last four as speaker, showed Utah women what was possible, not only in the world of politics.
Former House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, who is Jewish, said Lockhart was a “mensch,” a Yiddish word for a person integrity and honor.
When Litvack and Lockhart sat in his Capitol Hill office several years ago and he told her he was retiring from the House, they both cried – with Lockhart saying later she was sad to lose such a good friend from the House.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and his wife, Susan, become good friends with Stan and Becky Lockhart when the two young couples met at Brigham Young University.
They entered politics together, they took vacations together, they raised their families together.
Bramble, Hughes and Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, all broke up while speaking and had to stop to retain their composure.
Gibson was a strong Lockhart supporter, and she looked to the freshman Gibson to carry bills she supported.
“She was my mentor,” said Gibson, who will be the House Majority Whip starting Monday. He learned so much from her, he said, and not just about politics, but about life and understanding people.
Bramble said Lockhart wasn’t perfect; she made mistakes.
But when she did she tried to correct those mistakes and move on – apologizing as need be. Becky Lockhart was not one to ponder over problems or feel sorry for herself, he said.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he didn’t know Lockhart as well as the other speakers.
But he had great respect for her and her life accomplishments.
Lockhart “was as wonderful example of the life blood of our democracy; a life well lived in the service of others.”
While there is bitter sorrow now, said Christofferson, “and we may wonder at the timing” when a younger person is taken from us, for those remaining “who carry the burden of sadness, know that in the teaching of Jesus He says “come unto me and I will give you rest.”
Indeed, said Bramble, Lockhart had spoken of “promptings” that led her to decide to retire from the House the end of 2014 and look for the next great challenge in her life.
“She was at the top of her game,” said Bramble. Why would she retire?
Yet it was her profound faith that she believed it was time.
Little did she know two years ago when she announced her retirement – and that 2013-2014 would be her last term as speaker – that she would be taken so quickly.
“She has moved on to a higher calling, it seems,” said Bramble.
Herbert said he first met Stan and Becky Lockhart in 1991, when he took office as a freshman Utah County commissioner.
The Lockharts, in their mid-20s, were interested citizens who wanted to talk to Herbert about the idea of moving the county jail.
“They were pleased to give me their opinions on issues ever since,” he smiled.
Of all the titles Lockhart held, Herbert said the most important one to him was “friend.”
“She was the champion of the underdog; looking to give a voice to someone who needed one.”
Many have said, before and after her death, that Lockhart was an example, an inspiration and mentor, to women.
But, said Herbert, Lockhart inspired men, as well.
“She believed in herself, even when others may have had doubt. She didn’t sit on the sidelines and talk and complain, she entered the race to do the hard thing.”
The memorial was touching for a number of reasons.
Nine former House speakers attended, as did current and former legislators.
Former Rep. Ryan Wilcox sang a hymn, accompanied on the piano by former Rep. Derek Brown.
Joe Pyrah, Lockhart’s chief deputy, gave the benediction.
The Most Reverend John C. Wester said our lives don’t unravel with death. Death is not the end, as Christ tells us.
“She trusted in God, was an inspiration to women, and was a life fully lived.”