- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 14, 2007


Lady Bird Johnson never captured the nation’s fancy the way her predecessor, Jacqueline Kennedy, did, but the quiet, graceful and dignified former first lady was a similarly indispensable influence on her outspoken husband, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

“Beautification” topped Mrs. Johnson’s agenda. Her husband fought for and finally forced through legislation in 1965 to replace billboards and junkyards with flowers on federal roadways. It’s the only thing she is said to have asked LBJ for. Earlier Mrs. Johnson founded the Committee for a More Beautiful Capital to clean up blighted areas of Washington. Visitors can see the result at the Tidal Basin, in Lady Bird Johnson Park along the Potomac in Virginia, and near Arlington National Cemetery.

Beyond what some dismissed as the merely cosmetic, Mrs. Johnson was a calming and stabilizing influence on her volatile husband. Mrs. Johnson supported his political career from the beginning, using an inheritance from her mother to secure a $10,000 loan, a sizeable sum then, for his 1937 congressional campaign. Mrs. Johnson’s support for her husband’s 12 years in the House, 12 years in the Senate, three years as vice president and five years as president, was crucial. She was most proud, she once told People magazine, of “anything I did to keep Lyndon in good health and a good frame of mind to work as hard as he did.”

Her role was not limited to that of a behind-the-scene presence. To support her husband’s 1964 presidential campaign, she traveled across the South to tout the Civil Rights Act — a landmark piece of legislation signed by her husband and opposed by many Southerners in the name of states’ rights. Not only did Mrs. Johnson become the first first lady to campaign alone for her husband, she did it in the states most hostile to her husband’s policies.

Lady Bird Johnson died Wednesday at 94. Services will be held in Austin today, with burial tomorrow. The lady left a large and bountiful legacy.

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