Former US First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson dies at 94

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lady Bird Johnson at the rear of the White House (circa 1960s)

Former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson nee Claudia Alta Taylor, wife of United States President Lyndon B. Johnson, has died at her home in Austin, Texas. She was 94.

Mrs. Johnson’s official White House portrait.

She died of natural causes about 4:18 p.m. CDT (UTC-5). Her family and friends surrounded her when she passed.

Bess Truman, who reached the age of 97, was the only other first lady to live past 90. Lady Bird Johnson became first lady after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. After her husband’s presidency, she became known as an advocate of various environmental projects and environmentalism in general.

As President Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, criss-crossed States by road during the 1964 presidential campaign, she informed her husband of her feelings about the roadside junkyards they saw along the way. Inspired by her comments and enthusiasm from audiences, he observed “If it’s beautifying they want, it’s beautifying they’ll get.” Recognizing that “ours is an automobile society,” the President did not want to curtail roads. He wanted to make roads the “highways to the enjoyment of nature and beauty.” Lady Bird thought that her love of seeing Texas highways in spring had influenced her husband. She enjoyed the results of Texan wildflower conservation programs which began in the 1930s.

Lady Bird Johnson and an unidentified woman look on as Muriel Humphrey, wife of Vice President Hubert Humphrey shovels dirt around a dogwood tree planted along I-95 in Virginia, during her “Landscape-Landmark Tour” on May 11, 1965.

One of the most prominent results of the President’s beauty initiative was the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. It created restrictions on billboards and junkyards. As expected, it had been controversial. When the House considered its version of the bill on October 7, the debate lasted into the early morning hours of October 8. A pointed, but tongue-in-cheek amendment by Representative Robert Dole (R-Kan.) to strike out the term “Secretary of Commerce” wherever it appeared in the bill and insert the words “Lady Bird” lost by a voice vote. Saying, “Beauty belongs to all the people,” the President signed the bill and gave the pen to Lady Bird, along with a kiss on the cheek.

In 1982, she founded the National Wildflower Research Center to continue the mission of changing public attitudes toward native plants. In 1997 it was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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