Former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson drew her last breath as a Catholic priest led her family in a prayer.A family spokesman says Mrs. Johnson died of natural causes in her Austin home yesterday at the age of 94.A private family eucharist will be celebrated Friday at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.Starting Friday afternoon, the public is invited to pay its final respects as Mrs. Johnson lies in repose at the LBJ Library and Museum in Austin.On Sunday, the public is invited to line the route of a ceremonial procession passing through Austin that will carry Mrs. Johnson to her burial place in the Johnson family cemetery in Stonewall, west of Austin.Condolences continue to pour in from prominent American officials past and present — including former first ladies.More from Chad Pergram at the Houston Public Radio Capitol Bureau.
The assassination of President Kennedy thrust Lady Bird Johnson into the role of First Lady. Letitia Baldrige was JFK’s social secretary. She says Johnson seized the position with a SPECIAL calm.
“You can’t imagine the confusion and the turmoil in the White House. She walked in with total serenity. She’s a total professional. She organized her office immediately. She went about her tasks quietly, silently, without any hysteria which the rest of us were all feeling and showing.”
Republican Texas Representative John Carter says tranquility was Lady Bird’s hallmark.
“Lady Bird was the calming influence in a very tumultuous life. You know, Johnson was on the forefront of everything that happened in that era. And Lady Bird I think was the homefront I think to a great extent. And I think I also from what I’ve read in history books, she gave good guidance on issues that were important.”
Democratic Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee says Lady Bird may be best remembered for her name, but she had a hand in social policy too, such as the passage of the Civil Rights act of 1964.
“I know that her comforting words, her encouragement were part of the decision making of President Johnson as he made some difficult decisions during some difficult times regarding the civil rights of individuals who had been discriminated against for most of the 20th Century.”
Democratic Texas Representative Al Green says when LBJ was President, Lady Bird was never far behind.
“She represented one-half of a team that was at the helm when this country had some turbulent waters to navigate.”
“She earned her name very well. Lady Bird was a nickname. But she was really a lady.”
That’s Democratic Texas Congressman Gene Green. He says Lady Bird had a tough assignment from the beginning.
“Being married to an elected official is difficult. Being married to President Johnson was probably more so because he was a Member of the House, Member of the Senate, Majority Leader…Vice President and then President.”
Sheila Jackson Lee says Lady Bird’s soothing presence during the rough and tumble 1960s reflects her legacy of beautifying the country, particularly dotting Texas highways with flowers.
“We’d never think about the environment in the times she was speaking about beautification. But her beautification was protecting the environment. It was enhancing the environment. I consider her to be an early environmentalist.”
Gene Green says one of Lady Bird’s daughters recently drove her mother to a site along a Texas highway. It was overflowing with flowers.
“Lady Bird had lost sight. And she couldn’t walk. But the daughter went over and got some of the wildflowers and brought them to her and said Mom, you can’t see this, but you could smell these flowers. And this whole field is full of wildflowers. And that’s because of what you did.”
Green was instrumental in getting Congress to name the Department of Education Building in Washington after President Johnson. It assumes its new name in September. Green says he’s just disappointed Lady Bird couldn’t live to see it. For Houston Public Radio, I’m Chad Pergram on Capitol Hill.