Lady Bird Johnson Is Remembered

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 15, 2007

AUSTIN, July 14 -- Lady Bird Johnson was remembered Saturday for her unfailing kindness, thoughtfulness and even thriftiness as more than 1,000 people gathered at the edge of Texas Hill Country to pay their respects to the former first lady.

The mourners at Johnson's memorial service included first lady Laura Bush and four former first ladies, as well as former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Johnson died Wednesday at her Austin home at age 94.

Speakers at the two-hour memorial service included her two daughters, Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Johnson Turpin, three granddaughters and longtime friends including Bill Moyers, the former White House press secretary.

Moyers recalled how Johnson braved hostile crowds in Dallas in 1960 and, four years later, on a whistle-stop tour of the Deep South, not long after the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act.

"She seemed to grow calmer as the world around her grew more furious," Moyers recalled.

The service included plenty of anecdotes relating Johnson's sense of humor. Harry Middleton, the retired director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, told of a breakfast meeting at New York's Plaza Hotel when he and Johnson were seated near the Village People, who were dressed in full costume.

One of the band members came over and expressed his admiration of Johnson, then asked if she would have her picture taken with her. She graciously agreed, Middleton recalled, although she didn't know who the people were. Told later that they were a singing group, Johnson smiled and said, "Well, I wonder if we just made the cover of their next album."

Robb, the wife of former Virginia governor and U.S. senator Charles Robb, drew appreciative laughs when she spoke of her mother's frugality. "She wanted to hold on until 2010, so we wouldn't have to pay any estate taxes," Robb said. "Oh, durn!"

Johnson's body lay in repose for 22 hours at the LBJ Library, where more than 11,000 people filed by to pay their respects, before a military honor guard carried her coffin Saturday to Riverbend Centre, the ultramodern home of a west Austin megachurch.

Johnson's closed pine coffin was surrounded by large arrangements of wildflowers, including chrysanthemums, tulips and black-eyed Susans, a tacit acknowledgment of her best-known initiative as first lady.

Robb quoted her mother on the subject in her remembrance, calling wildflowers "weeds without press agents."

"Whenever we see wildflowers along the highways, with no billboards, we think of you," said Tom Johnson, another longtime friend who worked in the Johnson administration and later became chief executive at CNN and chairman of the LBJ Foundation.

"Lady Bird Johnson wasn't just concerned about wildflowers and beautification," Moyers said. "Yes, she planted flowers, but she also loved democracy and saw a beauty in it. This shy little girl from Karnack, Texas, grew up to show us how to cultivate beauty in democracy. She served the beauty in democracy as she did the beauty in nature."

Johnson, who was born Claudia Alta Taylor on Dec. 22, 1912, got her nickname in infancy from a caretaker who said she was as "purty as a lady bird."

The invitation-only crowd included Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), and three daughters of former presidents, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, Tricia Nixon Cox and Susan Ford Bales. President Bush remained in Washington, where his schedule Saturday included bike riding with his economic adviser.

Also in attendance were 50 of Johnson's former Secret Service agents. Turpin noted that her mother thought of her Washington staff, as well as her caregivers in more recent years, as extended members of the family.

The traditional Episcopal service ended with the choir and congregation singing "America the Beautiful" before the University of Texas Marching Band, wearing their burnt-orange uniforms, played "The Eyes of Texas," the university's official song. Johnson, a UT graduate, was a university regent in the 1970s.

"The eyes of Texas are upon you, till Gabriel blows his horn," members of the audience sang, raising their index and little fingers in the traditional "Hook 'em Horns" salute.

Johnson's body will be carried Sunday from the state Capitol in Austin to the LBJ Ranch near Stonewall, 40 miles away, where she will be buried next to her husband under an oak tree in the family cemetery.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company