PROVO — Becky Lockhart, the first woman to serve as Utah House speaker, will be remembered as an intense and ambitious leader who was passionate about the legislative process.
Lockhart, 46, died at her home Saturday from an unrecoverable and extremely rare neurodegenerative brain disease. She leaves behind her husband, Stan, a former Utah Republican Party chairman, and their three children, Hannah, Emily and Stephen.
“She was at peace and surrounded by her family,” said longtime friend Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who has acted as the Lockhart’s family spokesman since word came out that she was ill.
Speaker Lockhart had just stepped down from her legislative post and was putting the finishing touches on her book when she began to feel ill.
“It’s a credit to world-class doctors and Becky’s indomitable spirit that they were able to have these past days together with her,” Bramble said. “The outpouring of prayers and positive thoughts continue to help sustain the family, and they thank everyone for their support.”
At a news conference Saturday at the University of Utah Hospital, where doctors detailed the disorder that struck Lockhart in November, Bramble said she’ll “be remembered as one of the great leaders of Utah.”
He called Lockhart Utah’s “Iron Lady” and said she “didn’t rule with an iron fist per se, saying, ‘My way or the highway.‘ She’s a very strong lady, but one of her strengths was to allow her colleagues to be the best that they could be.”
There is no cure or treatment for the rare, fatal brain disorder known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease or CJD. Only 300 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year.
Tributes to Lockhart’s 16 years in the Utah Legislature, including four years as speaker, poured in from Republican and Democratic leaders around the state after her death was announced Saturday afternoon.
Gov. Gary Herbert said Utah “is a better place because of the service and sacrifice” of Lockhart and her husband. Even though in her final legislative session last year Lockhart and the GOP governor were often at odds, he said she was an inspiration.
“While first and foremost a wonderful wife and mother, she was also a remarkable role model, particularly to the untold numbers of women who were inspired by her example to be involved in public service,” Herbert said.
Attorney General Sean Reyes, a close friend to Lockhart, posted a picture taken with her on his Facebook page and wrote that she “was like a big sister (by only a few years, she would remind me).”
Reyes said he was “simply crushed” by the loss of someone who could be “running crazy” but would still make time to meet with Utahns to talk about the issues that concerned them.
“She was inspirational then and now,” the attorney general said. “I will miss her deeply.”
Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, recalled Lockhart’s own words about the need for women to speak out even if some people are made uncomfortable. Lockhart said, “until we are heard for our ideas and not viewed as tokens, that’s the price we’ll pay.”
Love said those words as well as Lockhart’s actions helped inspire her and other women.
“Because of Becky’s courage, many of Utah’s mothers and patriots across the country have found our voice and are willing to pay the same price for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Lockhart’s successor, House Speaker-elect Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said he was heartbroken for Lockhart’s family.
“Utah lost one of its finest today,” Hughes said. “Few in this state will ever fully appreciate Becky Lockhart’s efforts on behalf of the citizens of Utah. Her unwavering committment to Utah’s schoolchildren, economic development and the bolstering of Utah’s transportation infrastructure will be felt for generations.”
House Democrats offered their love and respect.