SALT LAKE CITY — Becky Lockhart, the first woman to serve as Utah House speaker, was honored Thursday as a role model, a wife and mother, and a caring colleague who loved lawmaking.
“Utah is a better place because Becky Lockhart served here and contributed so much to all of us,” Gov. Gary Herbert said during a memorial service at the state Capitol, where more than 1,000 people, including many state officials, gathered to remember her.
Lockhart, 46, died at home Saturday after a brief battle with a fatal and extremely rare neurodegenerative brain disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease or CJD.
Her daughter, Emily Britton, spoke of how Lockhart brought her three children “along on her dream,” letting them spend a day with her at the Legislature throughout her 16 years in office.
“My mom understood the best way to teach her children how to love their state and love their country was to involve us,” Britton said, describing their shared days during legislative sessions as “just as exciting as our birthdays.”
Britton, who met her future husband when both were legislative interns, recalled “girl talk” with her mother about the romance at the speaker’s dais. Britton said she, her sister Hannah and her brother Stephen, now on an LDS Church mission, “are children of the Utah House.”
Lockhart’s successor, House Speaker-elect Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said while he learned much from her, “of all the things she has taught me, she left me unprepared for a day like this. She’s still our speaker.”
Legislative leaders had planned to pay tribute to Lockhart, who did not run for re-election, on the opening day of the 2015 Legislature on Monday and present her with a painting of the state Capitol.
Lockhart wouldn’t want lawmakers to dwell on her passing, he said.
“She didn’t have a lot of time for a lot of moping and a lot of feeling sorry, maybe for her, for ourselves,” Hughes said. “She would tell us to get to work, tell us to get going. That’s what I want to remember.”
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said “there’s no question Becky Lockhart’s life was one of depth and accomplishment,” both politically and personally.
“She’s a wonderful example of the civic engagement that is the lifeblood of democracy and of a life well lived in the service of others,” Elder Christofferson said, describing the loss of someone so young as seeming “to come from a particularly bitter measure of sorrow.”
The Most Rev. John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City offered the invocation, citing Lockhart’s “example of strength in leadership, selflessness in public service, devotion to family, trust in God’s providence, inspiration to women and gratitude for a life fully lived.”
Those who worked closely with Lockhart on Capitol Hill recalled both her toughness and her tenderness.
Catherine Dupont, associate general counsel to the Legislature, said Lockhart could be tough on those who crossed her politically but also compassionate, shedding tears and giving hugs.
“She loved her fellow legislators, and she took time out for that human touch,” Dupont said.
One of Lockhart’s lasting legacies, she said, should be the realization that “woman can have a family, can be intelligent and can step forward and run for office and serve her community.”
Former House Minority Leader David Litvack, who retired from the Legislature several years ago, said Lockhart made him feel valued as a Democrat and as a member of the Jewish faith.
Litvack thanked her on behalf of his own daughter, “and so many daughters out there, for leading the way.”
House Majority Whip-elect Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, called Lockhart a “master of making you feel you were all that mattered at that very moment,” whether as a political mentor or a parent or wife to Stan Lockhart, the former Utah GOP chairman.
“She had the courage and a strong resolve to do what was right. When opposition arose, she would stand tall,” knowing she was on solid ground, Gibson said. “The word ‘no’ was a word she saw only as a temporary setback.”
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, one of Lockhart’s closest friends, said a participant at a women’s legislative leadership conference she spoke at called her a “beacon of light” who took pride in women political leaders regardless of their political affiliation.
Herbert said it is “too simple” to describe Lockhart as only an example to women. “She was an example to all of us,” the governor said, praising her willingness to engage rather than “sit on the sidelines and complain.”
Lockhart’s funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the LDS stake center at 300 N. 900 East in Provo and is expected to be attended by members of Utah’s congressional delegation.
On Wednesday, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, paid tribute to Lockhart from the floor of the U.S. Senate. Lee said he “affectionately and admiringly referred to Speaker Lockhart as the Iron Lady of Utah” for possessing many of the same qualities as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
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