Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Godspeed, Lady Bird Johnson

I was saddened to hear of the death of Lady Bird Johnson, widow of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States. I didn't know her, but I loved her memoir, A White House Diary, and very much enjoyed hearing her insights on the various documentaries and testimonials relating to her late husband. Of course, if you go to Washington, you see some of her handiwork--you come into town on the Lady Bird Johnson parkway. She was vitally interested in the creation and maintenance of natural public spaces.

Her greatest accomplishment was being the constant companion of the force of nature that was Lyndon Baines Johnson. She never had regular hours, never had a regular home, or routine, or job...she was Lyndon Johnson's partner 24/7. That meant first of all taking his initials on a permanent basis--she had been Claudia Taylor, but she became Lady Bird Johnson, just as her daughters were Lynda Bird and Lucy Baines, and the LBJ dog was Little Beagle Johnson(!). It also meant enjoying the highs, like LBJ's victories in his Congressional and Senatorial campaigns, and then trying to pick up the pieces and build her husband up to go back into the arena again after the losses, like the first Senate campaign against Coke Stevenson. Lyndon Johnson had a pendulum that swung so wide, it must have given her whiplash trying to keep him on an even keel.

She witnessed the crime of the century, riding behind JFK and Jackie on November 22, l963. She remembered wondering "what in the world had taken over our lives" on the way to the hospital, then proceeding with her husband, the new President, to Air Force One for the long, horror-filled journey back to Washington with President Kennedy's body in the rear of the plane. Memorably, she was present before takeoff before everyone realized that no one knew the oath of office word for word, not even the judge who was there to administer it. She winced a little bit before recalling that they had to put in a call to the Attorney General. "What an excruciating call...the Attorney General was Bobby Kennedy."

She made her cause the beautification of America, especially parks and highways. But she couldn't avoid politics when her husband plunged the United States deeper and deeper into the war in Vietnam. Lady Bird was giving a reception one day when the folk singer Eartha Kitt angrily accosted her in the receiving line, essentially for aiding and abetting her husband the war criminal. I don't think she approved of the Vietnam war, and I am sure the deaths anguished her. But she loyally supported her husband, particularly when he decided to give up the Presidency.

After LBJ died, she lived quietly at the LBJ ranch, supporting the causes she had championed as First Lady and tending to the Johnson Library, which everyone should visit when in the vicinity of Austin. It's great. She was loyal to old friends...I remember seeing her at Jackie Kennedy's funeral, hobbling along with the help of a cane. I hope she is reunited with her husband under much happier circumstances now...she ran the good race. Rest in peace, Lady Bird Johnson.


jodmeister said...

I love the photo of her on Washington (there is a great photo gallery of her) where she is laughing at something LBJ told her. You can just tell that she was laughing hysterically.

What a lovely lady, both inside and out. RIP Lady Bird.

moville said...

Right you are. I wish I had known her personally.

german said...

yes indeed and she ended the endless line of burma shave billboards for something natural and prsitine on the drive.......oh wait i forgot i was in the middle of desert!!!!!!!