Tuesday, July 17, 2007

She Planted Pansies


She Planted Pansies
Published on 7/14/2007

Driving along an interstate highway and admiring the wildflowers growing along the median, passersby need to give a silent thank-you to Lady Bird Johnson.

The widow of America's 36th president, Mrs. Johnson died Wednesday of natural causes at her home in Austin, Texas. She was 94.

An early environmentalist, it was Mrs. Johnson who heralded the cause of highway beautification, encouraging others to tear down billboards and replace them with trees and flowers. Her husband, President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, supported his wife's love of nature and intent to make the nation's highways and byways more attractive.

Born Claudia Alta Taylor on Dec. 22, 1912, in the east Texas town of Karnack, population 100, Mrs. Johnson was dubbed Lady Bird as a toddler by a nurse-maid who described her as “purty as a lady bird.”

The nickname stuck, and according to The New York Times, Mrs. Johnson once explained, “I was a baby and in no position to protest.”

Often compared to Eleanor Roosevelt, whom she admired, Mrs. Johnson was described by those in the political thick as a calm and steadying influence on her husband, who was known to be moody and sometimes hotheaded.

Her press secretary once wrote, “If President Johnson was the long hand, Lady Bird Johnson was the gentle hand.”

The Times, in its news obituary, said, “She softened hurts, mediated quarrels and won over many political opponents.”

President Johnson acknowledged that his political success was due in great part to his wife's devotion and forbearance, and others shared that belief.

While she worked to beautify the nation's capital and highways, getting down on her knees to plant pansies on Capitol Hill, Mrs. Johnson also supported other programs on her husband's behalf such as Head Start, the Job Corps and the War on Poverty.

And she was there in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and later, on Air Force One, as her husband took the oath of office as president.

Lady Bird Johnson was a colorful character who never lost her Texas twang and mannerisms.

She was known to say, “I'll see you next week if the Lord be willing and the creek don't rise.”

The creek has risen on Lady Bird Johnson. We were blessed to have her as a first lady.

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