Thursday, January 22, 2015

Slipped the Surly Bonds: The Memorial of Speaker Rebecca Dawn Lockhart

"Friends, though absent, are still present." - Cicero

When the news announced recently that Speaker Becky Lockhart was critically ill, I was taken aback.  The suddenness of her illness seemed puzzling and remarkable to me.  Her vitality and energetic spirit seemed so incongruent with such an affliction.  But, when the news came shortly thereafter that she had passed from her illness, I was in complete disbelief.  I giant hole was left in my heart.

As Legislators, we see each other every month or so at official gatherings.  But, due to the holidays, it had been a couple months since I last saw Becky.  Her passing came so quickly and unexpectedly that the news felt like a cruel hoax.  But, that feeling was immediately extinguished today at her memorial held at the Capitol.  I can barely relate the feeling of seeing her husband Stan and their children walk into the Rotunda without her.  It was at that moment that somber disbelief transformed into poignant grief.

Nevertheless, the memorial services were beautiful.  They celebrated Becky's many accomplishments as a mother, wife, and political leader.  Her daughter spoke with conviction, maturity, and hope.  Ryan Wilcox sang a beautiful rendition of Be Still My Soul.  The other speakers, including the Governor, gave beautiful spiritual messages that inspired and edified the soul.  

The memorial has helped me to begin healing the wound of Becky's untimely departure.  She has left many of us with wonderful memories.  On the opening day of the General Session, the Legislature will be presenting a book of memories written by Legislators who served with Becky.  I wanted to share an experience that wasn't about the regular political grind that we usually experience together.  Here is the story I submitted:

 My most memorable experience with Becky was at NCSL Atlanta in 2013.  After dinner one evening, Ryan Wilcox coaxed Becky and me into accompanying him on a hunt for Georgia peaches.  It appeared we were in luck because supposedly there was a giant indoor Farmer's Market about six miles from our hotel and it was open 24 hours a day.  So, from the restaurant, we walked in the dark to the nearest hotel where a line of cab drivers were eager to serve.  Dressed professionally as we were, the taxi supervisor guided us to a specific driver to send us on our way.  Once we were in the cab though, we knew were in trouble.  Our driver spoke fluent Ethiopian but not enough english to understand the directions we were giving him.  Neither was he accustomed to the taxi GPS map system in his vehicle.  Nevertheless, as we struggled to communicate, the taxi started moving and we were on our way…to somewhere.  Ryan, in a mix of good humor and exasperation, began using the GPS on his phone to instruct the driver where to turn.  We were travelling at speeds far in excess of what was safe for the curves in the road.  Becky was holding on tightly to the door grips as the driver pushed our small sedan to its limits.  Our driver was lost and driving erratically in the dark streets of unknown neighborhoods.  Finally, after driving through run down streets and ominous looking industrial parks, we stopped to call the Farmers Market for directions.  That was the moment they informed us that the peach vendor had packed up and gone home for the evening.  Becky, Ryan, and I were completely flummoxed.  We failed in our mission.  To add insult to injury, we had to instruct our driver on how to get back to the hotel.  When we arrived the meter stopped running.  The driver turned to us for payment.  The whole terrifying adventure cost us $75.        
I pray for the comfort of Becky's family as they move forward in her absence.  As a man of faith, I know that they will ultimately be reunited, even if the temporary separation may grieve the heart.  Becky would have wanted us to keep our chin up and press forward.  The Legislature will honor that as we work with diligence and carry out the duties of our office.  Her memory will echo in the Chamber of the House and the hearts of those who are privileged to call her a friend and colleague.     

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