- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Former first lady Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson, one of America's most prominent environmentalists, is among recipients of the U.S. National Arboretum's first Gold Medal of Excellence, the arboretum announced yesterday.

Mrs. Johnson will share the award with members of her beautification committee a 30-member group of friends and politicians who served during the Johnson administration. Arboretum Director Thomas S. Elias yesterday praised the achievements of Mrs. Johnson, who will be featured in the PBS documentary "Lady Bird, Naturally," this month.

"Today, Washington, D.C., is more beautiful, thanks to Mrs. Johnson," Mr. Elias said.

The medal recognizes the person or group that best epitomizes the mission of the arboretum and will be awarded at a formal dinner Oct. 3 at the arboretum.

The award acknowledges sustained contributions in horticulture, plant improvement, beautification through plant materials, sound environmental practices and plant development.

Mrs. Johnson, 89, widow of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, began her environmental work in the early 1960s after visiting national parks around the country.

After Mr. Johnson told Americans "we must prevent an ugly America" in his 1964 Great Society speech, Mrs. Johnson began her work beautifying cities and roadways around the country without government funding. She urged friends and gardeners to help plant thousands of flowers around Washington, and in 1965, she supported the Highway Beautification Act.

"This crusade spread far beyond this capital city," said Eric Fraunfelter, chairman of the Friends of the National Arboretum's 75th anniversary committee. The award marks the anniversary.

Mrs. Johnson and the members of her beautification committee were unanimous choices for the inaugural gold medal, Mr. Fraunfelter said. Committee members included former District Mayor Walter Washington, millionaire Laurance Rockefeller and the late Philip Graham, publisher of The Washington Post.

"Personally, I don't think you could have made a better choice for this award," said PBS producer Marlene Richardson, who spent three years filming the documentary about the former first lady. "Mrs. Johnson has left a legacy for us all."

The award will be accepted by Mrs. Johnson's daughters on her behalf because she is in poor health. She suffered a stroke in early May. She lives in Stonewall, Texas. Surviving members of the beautification committee are expected to attend.

Mrs. Richardson said many of Mrs. Johnson's achievements were overshadowed by other events in the 1960s, such as the Vietnam War and the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Her critics often questioned the importance of her actions, but she took it in stride, Mrs. Richardson said.

"She had a really good attitude about it," Mrs. Richardson added. "It's about time the word has gotten out."

The documentary will air at 2 p.m. June 30 on WETA ( local Channel 26).

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