Lady Bird Johnson Dies at 94

Former First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson has died.

Lady Bird Johnson 1994 Photo Lady Bird Johnson, wife of the late U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, poses at the Botanic Garden Conservatory in Washington in this May 11, 1994 file photo. The former first lady passed away aged 94, a family spokewoman said on July 11, 2007. REUTERS/Mannie Garcia/Files (UNITED STATES) Lady Bird Johnson, the former first lady who championed conservation and worked tenaciously for the political career of her husband, former President Lyndon B. Johnson, died Wednesday, a family spokeswoman said. She was 94.

Lady Bird Johnson returned home late last month after a week at Seton Medical Center, where she’d been admitted for a low-grade fever. Her husband died in 1973.

She died at her Austin home of natural causes about 4:18 p.m. CDT. Elizabeth Christian, the spokeswoman, said she was surrounded by family and friends.

May she rest in peace.

Her husband was president when I was born but left office long before I reached the age of political awareness. Indeed, I’m not sure that I’d heard of him until he died, which was an especially big deal because I was in Houston at the time, attending 1st grade.

From her official biography:

Lady Bird Johnson Official PortraitChristened Claudia Alta Taylor when she was born in a country mansion near Karnack, Texas, she received her nickname “Lady Bird” as a small child; and as Lady Bird she is known and loved throughout America today. Perhaps that name was prophetic, as there has seldom been a First Lady so attuned to nature and the importance of conserving the environment.

[…]

She helped keep his Congressional office open during World War II when he volunteered for naval service; and in 1955, when he had a severe heart attack, she helped his staff keep things running smoothly until he could return to his post as Majority Leader of the Senate. He once remarked that voters “would happily have elected her over me.”

[…]

In the election of 1960, Lady Bird successfully stumped for Democratic candidates across 35,000 miles of campaign trail. As wife of the Vice President, she became an ambassador of goodwill by visiting 33 foreign countries. Moving to the White House after Kennedy’s murder, she did her best to ease a painful transition. She soon set her own stamp of Texas hospitality on social events, but these were not her chief concern. She created a First Lady’s Committee for a More Beautiful Capital, then expanded her program to include the entire nation. She took a highly active part in her husband’s war-on-poverty program, especially the Head Start project for preschool children.

When the Presidential term ended, the Johnsons returned to Texas, where he died in 1973. Mrs. Johnson’s White House Diary, published in 1970, and a 1981 documentary film, The First Lady, A Portrait of Lady Bird Johnson, give sensitive and detailed views of her contributions to the President’s Great Society administration. Today Lady Bird leads a life devoted to her husband’s memory, her children, and seven grandchildren. She still supports causes dear to her–notably the National Wildflower Research Center, which she founded in 1982, and The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library. She also serves on the Board of the National Geographic Society as a trustee emeritus.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Richard Gardner says:

    I’m afraid my first reaction was, what, she is, er, was, still alive. (I don’t do dead pools)

    I’m sure she loathed today’s disclosure society. She was a Southern Belle who understood that under the mores of her time, her husband would have dalliances. How times change, and how the [private] sex lives of pols are now all so important in the public perceptions (intentional plural).

    I believe her big project was to stop free speech in the form of Burma Shave ads – she was against billboards. Beautify America.

    Regardless, just like MacArthur said he would do, she just faded away. But I suspect her behind the scenes actions were much more effective than those that stand up and yell for attention – by being obscure she had more power – if you got a call for Lady Bird Johnson, who isn’t going to take it? Plus the Johnson money was alway in broadcast stations, so I’m sure she knew how to get her message out, without tweaking your nose in it. Today’s politicians should learn that.

    RIP