ONE SHORT MONTH AGO, a few short weeks even, I flew back to Washington, D.C., in part to accompany my friend through some meetings in the Senate. Speaker Becky Lockhart had been feeling a little under the weather, telling me the day before we left that she wasn’t sure if she would be able to make the trip, that she was fighting what she described as “vertigo”. Though she wasn’t feeling well, she felt that it was important enough to go anyway.
This past year, Speaker Lockhart and Minority Leader Jen Seelig put countless hours into co-chairing Utah’s Women in the Economy Commission, and she wanted to personally share their report with Senator Lee. While we were officially there on legislative business in discussions on strategy from lands policy and federalism to the Commission Report, unofficially, it was one more chance to make a difference.
Becky didn’t stop.
Ten months ago, on the last day of the 2014 legislative session, unbeknownst to the Speaker, I was asked to deliver her final tribute on behalf of the House of Representatives as we concluded what would be her 16th, and last, legislative session. I remember feeling inadequate to the task. She was one of only a handful of people who knew that I, too, would be leaving the House. Moments earlier we had shared one final strategy session in her office, as we discussed what still needed to happen by midnight.
I could see it in her eyes. She loved Her time in the Utah House of Representatives- because she loved serving the people of Utah…and leaving was hard. Regardless of the challenges we faced, she reminded us over and over again that what we did mattered, because they mattered.
I didn’t have time to write it. My last bill cleared the board at 11:50 pm. We cast our last vote at 11:59. And just like that, it was over. We had the usual pomp and ceremony, with committees reporting this and that, and the speech from the governor, tinged with only a few small references to Becky’s session opening address.
She swung the gavel.
They turn the cameras off when the official stuff ends at midnight…but this time, I wish that they had still been rolling. Sure the night was filled with the traditional roasting that takes place after the final gavel, but this one felt different. Eventually, we turned back to our Speaker.
I had already read her speech. Joe and I had reviewed it a few hours before. She poured her heart into this one:
“I suppose I can be a little crusty at times, but beneath this crusty exterior there’s a tender place, a special place where I keep my memories of the past 16 years. This House, it’s practically my home. It’s a place where we fight, but that’s OK, because family can fight; it’s a place where lobbyists may congregate, but constituents get to cut to the front of the line. …It’s a place where process, beautiful and messy, continues to ensure great policy becomes great law.”
Shortly after she finished, she turned to me…expecting me to make an announcement.
I had it recorded. With her passing, I’ve had several requests for a copy…none of which I can locate.
With my nine year old daughter, Reagan, at my side, I thanked the Speaker for what she meant to girls like her. I reminded the body that like her hero, Martha Hughes Cannon, (another strong Utah woman who was the first elected female state senator in the nation) and in the shadow of David Lock’s mural of Seraph Young, (the first woman to vote in the United States), that she, too, had indeed become a dealer in hope.
That as important as it was symbolically as the most powerful elected woman in the state and the first female Speaker of the House, that the most important part, was how she led.
Becky led us, by getting out of our way. Her love for the institution, for the body and those we represent permeated her leadership philosophy. She was fierce when she needed to be. But more than that, she refused to use her power as Speaker to silence even the smallest voice in the body she led.
Billy Hesterman then a reporter with the Daily Herald, recorded my reference to her ahead-of-it’s-time technology initiative:
“One of the marks of a leader that is most defining is what they do when it is a choice between them and those they are leading,” Wilcox said. “When it came down to that, our Speaker was willing to sacrifice for what we needed and believed in, over her own proposal and idea.”
She could have pushed it. And I watched in awe as she refused to leverage her power as Speaker, in the final session of her legislative career when that would have meant compromising the body.
Can there be any truer test of leadership than in the sacrifice of one’s self? In a world that celebrates victory at all costs, the “satin and steel” vision and leadership of Speaker Becky Lockhart in the waning days of the 2014 legislative session offer more to the student of leadership than ever made it into the headlines.
That’s what the “Utah’s Iron Lady” references point to. There are countless examples, but this one, I didn’t want to forget. I pray that by finally writing it down, that my own daughters will remember, too.
While most if not all legislators leaving office at the end of their term had long ago cleaned out their offices and moved on, she would not go quietly. On the contrary, she spent the past several months deep in the trenches of serious policy work, laying the groundwork for the decades ahead.
Becky used to call on me to sing. For whatever reason, whenever it was time to lead the singing in the house, she came to me. Turns out, she was a HUGE Journey fan.
At the end of the 2013 legislative session, rather than the traditional song, a handful of intrepid interns and I put together a little video, taken entirely from legitimate house speeches that year (I may or may not have planted some of the lyrics in various colleagues speeches).
At the time, it was pure coincidence. In fact, she ad libbed her statement from the dais the last week of the session, a statement that I included at the end of the video, and that I’m going to choose to hang onto:
“Don’t Stop Believin’…We’ll get there…Don’t Stop Believin’.” – Speaker Becky Lockhart
We will get there, Madame Speaker.
Thanks Again, Becky…for everything.
Looks like I’ll be singing for you one more time.