Funeral for former first lady held in Texas
The Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas — Lady Bird Johnson’s wit, wisdom and love of beauty — in nature, in children and in democracy — were remembered Saturday as family, friends and presidents bade farewell at her funeral.
“It is unthinkable to me that she’s gone. She was so much a part of our landscape, so much a part of our lives,” Bill Moyers, a television host and former aide to President Lyndon Johnson, said at the service.
The former first lady died Wednesday at age 94 of natural causes.
Along with her devotion to preserving wildflowers and native plants, Lady Bird Johnson worked tirelessly for her husband’s political career, Moyers said. He recalled her marathon stumping through the South during the 1964 presidential campaign amid anger that raged at Lyndon Johnson over his signing of the Civil Rights Act.
The first lady trudged on despite threats, hecklers and racist signs, Moyers said.
“Yes, she planted flowers,” he said. “She also loved democracy and saw a beauty in it.”
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, first lady Laura Bush and former first ladies Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton attended the two-hour service at Riverbend Centre overlooking the Texas Hill Country.
Carter tapped his foot and President Clinton swayed slightly to the music as a gospel choir sang an upbeat number near the beginning of the ceremony.
Members of the University of Texas Longhorn Band finished off the service with a rousing rendition of the “Eyes of Texas,” complete with many in the crowd of about 1,800 making the university’s “hook ‘em horns” sign with their fingers.
Lady Bird Johnson attended the University of Texas and was once a UT System regent. Her husband’s presidential library is at UT-Austin.
Caroline Kennedy, Trisha Nixon Cox and Susan Ford Bales — daughters of former Presidents Kennedy, Nixon and Ford, respectively — also attended the funeral.
Johnson’s daughters Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson and three granddaughters shared personal stories about the former first lady, whom they called “Nini.” They described her as an unselfish and gracious woman committed to her public duties and to her private family times.
“As you always told us, know that you are loved,” Lynda Johnson Robb said, gesturing toward her mother’s casket.
The crowd heard stories about the trips Johnson enjoyed taking in her later years, often with grandchildren in tow.
Harry Middleton, retired director of the LBJ Library and Museum, told about a breakfast meeting he had with her in New York’s Plaza Hotel dining room. Members of the music group The Village People were seated nearby in full costume as a construction worker, policeman and American Indian, and asked whether they could take their picture with her.
Johnson agreed, then later asked someone who they were and said, “Well, I wonder if we just made the cover of their next album,” Middleton recalled, to lots of laughs.
“She was fun — just a whale of a lot of fun to be with. She had a delicious sense of humor, sometimes slightly mischievous, laced with surprises not always in keeping with her image,” Middleton said.
Tom Johnson, a longtime family friend and chairman of the LBJ Foundation, spoke of Lady Bird Johnson’s fondness for wildflowers and said she was now at a great ranch in the sky.
He imagined what Lyndon Johnson might say to her, specifically about the decision she and Middleton made to release recordings of White House telephone conversations much earlier than he had wanted. The tapes have given new insight into the president’s private anguish over the Vietnam War and his backroom dealings to push his Great Society domestic agenda.
Tom Johnson suggested the remarks from the late president to Lady Bird Johnson went like this: “Even though you and Harry Middleton opened those sealed White House tapes about 40 years earlier than I had directed, it was another wise decision by you. It actually seemed to have helped my reputation.”
The crowd roared with laughter.
The funeral marked the second day of three days of ceremonies that began Friday with family prayer services and a public visitation at the library. The former first lady lay in repose nearly 22 hours, and more than 11,500 people paid their respects.
She is to buried today at the LBJ Ranch at Stonewall.
Lynda Johnson Robb pauses at the casket during a funeral service for her mother and former first lady Lady Bird Johnson on Saturday in Austin, Texas.