“Lady Bird” Johnson died Wednesday at her home in Austin, Texas. She was 94.

This morning I heard Cokie Roberts on “Morning Edition” talking about Johnson’s great accomplishments as First Lady, including her environmental legacy. Roberts said she was pleased when the White House tapes of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency were released, because the conversations recorded between the president and the first lady revealed her influence and impact.

“He took her advice,” said Roberts. “She was his main counselor.”

The NPR link also leads to a selection of audio recordings of Lady Bird Johnson. Quotes and images have been posted on this memorial site, created by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Over at the Washington Post, Lewis L. Gould, author of “Lady Bird Johnson: Our Environmental First Lady,” will be online today at noon to discuss her life and activism.

Here’s an excerpt from the obituary published in the Post:

The first wife of a president since Eleanor
Roosevelt to pursue the role of an activist, she helped bring the cause
of conservation to national attention. Campaigning for beautification
— although she found the term “prissy” and “slight” — she helped her
husband, the 36th president, advance preservation of the American
landscape as an economic, aesthetic and ecological necessity. A 1982
poll of historians ranked her third among first ladies in influence and
importance, behind Roosevelt and Abigail Adams.

Her partnership with her husband on beautification had gone on since
their work on Texas roadside parks in the 1930s. However, in an
extensive interview with The Washington Post in 1994, she said she did
not think her love of nature would “ever amount to anything except for
my own personal pleasure.” With Johnson in the White House, though,
what had been a personal commitment to natural beauty became a national
cause.

From her “bully pulpit” as first lady, Mrs. Johnson called attention
to her husband’s ambitious legislative programs. Traveling the country
with her own press corps, she dedicated community colleges and
encouraged adult education; visited rural clinics, school lunch
programs and Head Start classrooms; and worked to improve the landscape
of American cities and towns, beginning with Washington.

“Once you are in that position and you want to serve whatever your
husband’s efforts are on behalf of the country, you choose those which
make your heart sing,” she told The Post.

In an appreciation titled “Lady Bird Johnson Gave America A Big Bouquet,” Ann Gerhart writes:

Lady Bird Johnson was a real Southern charmer and a
publicly demurring wife, but she also had a steely sense of politics
born of decades spent alongside her husband, Lyndon, in the Senate and
as vice president. She tramped into the ghettos and posed for photos,
pumps on her feet and a shovel in her hands; but she also lobbied for
the Highway Beautification Act, which pushed billboards 50 yards away
from the roadsides and insisted junkyards be screened from view. It was
but one of 150 environmental laws, including the landmark Clean Air
Act, enacted with her vigorous support during the Johnson
administration from 1963 to 1969. She was a patron saint to the
National Park Service. […]

Lady Bird had studied journalism at the University of Texas and
hoped to be a reporter before her whirlwind courtship with Johnson
changed all that, and so she “knew the language of the trade, the
difference between an a.m. and p.m. deadline, and that it was better to
be accessible than evasive,” according to Liz Carpenter, her press
secretary and longtime friend.

“My theory on Mrs. Johnson is
that she decided as smart women did in Texas in the ’30s that she was
probably smarter than 90 percent of the guys she encountered, but if
she let them know that, she was going to be in difficulty. She
internalized that and felt that effectiveness was more important than
credit,” said Gould.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Christine

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  • kyle July 12, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    Lady Bird Johnson became First Lady under the most tragic and difficult of circumstances, a presidential assasination,and in succeeding Jackie Kennedy she would find herself compared to one of the most beloved figures of the second half of the 20th century. Furthermore, her husband’s presidency was soon torn apart because of Vietnam leading to the White House literally being under siege. Despite all the adversity Lady Bird was an early advocate for the environment and to the extent possible had a calming effect on her irascible husband. She was smart,caring,kind,and devoted to family and country.If she had been born a few decades later, she undoubtedly would have assumed a leadership position in government or industry. She certainly deserves to be included amongst the most important and accomplished of First Ladies.

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