Posted Jul 12, 2007 12:03 am CDT
Lady Bird Johnson, who graciously used her influence as first lady during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson to lobby for human rights and laws protecting the environment, died today at age 94. Her health had been fragile after she suffered a stroke in 2002 that made it difficult for her to speak, and she reportedly was hospitalized in June with a fever.
A devoted wife and political partner to Johnson, whom she married in 1934, seven weeks after they began dating, Claudia Alta Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson was to became known not only as a gracious hostess during her husband’s years in the presidency in the 1960s but an ambassador of goodwill who visited 33 countries while he was still vice president. She was also an influential force in environmental projects, such as enactment of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, known as Lady Bird’s bill, reports ABC News.
She promoted her husband’s war on poverty by helping establish pre-school programs. And, contrary to the stereotype many might have had of a Southern belle of her generation (she was born in Texas and had a Neiman Marcus account at age 14), she also supported the controversial Equal Rights Act amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have spelled out rights for women, if it had been enacted.
Lady Bird Johnson was in the Dallas motorcade in the car immediately behind then-President John F. Kennedy when he was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. The crime catapulted her husband into the office and left her feeling helpless to assist former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, still wearing a suit stained with her husband’s blood, she recounted in an 800-page book published in 1970 about the Johnson family’s White House life. “Oh Mrs. Kennedy,” Lady Bird Johnson told her, after Jackie Kennedy declined to change, saying she wanted others to see what had happened to her husband. “You know we never even wanted to be vice president, and now, dear God, it’s come to this.”
Washington Post (First Lady Recalled as Charming, Media Savvy and Deeply Connected to Nature).
New York Times (Lady Bird Johnson was described by her husband as “the brains and money of this family”).