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Ravell Call, Deseret News
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, answers questions during a press availability in her office at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. Behind her is Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper. Lockhart, the first woman to serve as Utah House speaker, died at her home Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, from an unrecoverable and extremely rare neurodegenerative brain disease. Lockhart she was 46.

SALT LAKE CITY — Earlier this month, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, was at a national conference with other state legislators in New Orleans. But his mind was counting the hours until he could return home.

Rebecca Lockhart, a family friend of 25 years and the first woman to be Utah's House Speaker, was dying, and Bramble needed to say goodbye.

Bramble was back with Lockhart and her family just 30 hours after leaving Utah, making the most of moments that have since turned into precious memories. By then, all they could do was be together as Lockhart had lost the ability to form words.

She didn't need them to convey her message.

With one hand on Bramble's heart and the other squeezing his hand, she wept.

"It wasn't just one tear welling up," Bramble said.

And what she had to say was clear, he said.

"Her husband would say that Becky would say, 'Buck up, deal with it and go do your job,'" he said. "I think she would tell all of us to carry on."

Lockhart, 46, died on Saturday, leaving behind her husband, Stan, and children, Hannah, Emily, and Stephen.

The family announced Sunday that a public memorial service will be held Thursday at 10 a.m. in the Capitol Rotunda. That evening, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., a visitation with the family will be held at the LDS chapel at 1625 S. Slate Canyon Dr. in Provo. The funeral will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at the LDS stake center at 300 N. 900 East in Provo.

The speed with which the disease took her life has shaken those who knew her and brought an outpouring of sympathy and support from all corners of the state and beyond.

Lockhart began having dizziness in November. By Jan. 5, she was hospitalized in critical condition, diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare and fatal brain disorder without cure or treatment.

Doctors at the University of Utah who helped care for Lockhart described CJD as Alzheimer's disease on steroids. One in 1 million people are diagnosed worldwide, with just a few weeks or months to live.

She spent her final days at home on hospice care.

While most of the family was able to be at Lockhart's bedside, her son, Stephen, is currently serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Richmond, Va. His last goodbye to his mother was on speakerphone, and she couldn't answer back.

"They hurt," Bramble's wife, Susan, said of the family. "There's a big loss there, but they're handling it. They're like they're mother — they've got that little bit of spunk in them. So they're strong kids."

That spunk was apparent to those who worked with Lockhart during her 16 years in the Utah Legislature, including four years as speaker. Curt Bramble said she was Utah's "iron lady," being a strong role model and advocate for women in the state.

"What she wanted for women was an equal opportunity," he said. "She believed that women could compete anywhere if they were competing on a level playing field. And she demonstrated that."

Joe Pyrah, who served as Lockhart's chief deputy of the House, said Sunday her work was largely driven toward strengthening the balance between state and federal powers. She also focused on issues such as transportation and education.

"She was incredibly strong. She was a little bit different of a leader in the sense that she knew what she wanted and she let people know," Pyrah said. "Sometimes that ruffled some feathers. But it really was a breath of fresh air to see someone who is willing to say the things that they wanted."

Before the end of her term as speaker, Bramble said Lockhart decided not to seek re-election in response to "strong promptings" that she had other duties to fulfill.

"There was this notion that she knew she had something that she was going to be doing, but she just didn't know what it was," he said. "It's easy to understand that Becky may have been called home early, that there may be other challenges for her to do. People of faith believe that life is eternal. Becky certainly is a woman of faith."

Pyrah said he, too, had a chance to say goodbye to Lockhart.

"I expressed some frustration that she had too much to do," he said. "I assume she's probably got stuff to do elsewhere, and I'm OK with that."

In lieu of sending flowers, the family has asked that donations be directed to the Rebecca D. Lockhart Endowed Scholarship, which was set up in her memory for students at the Center for Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University. Donations can be made online at www.donate.supportuvu.org/lockhart.

Email: [email protected], Twitter: MorganEJacobsen