Lady Bird Johnson dies at 94
AUSTIN, Texas - Lady Bird Johnson, the former first lady who championed conservation and worked tenaciously for the political career of her husband, former President Lyndon B. Johnson, died Wednesday, a family spokeswoman said. She was 94.
Lady Bird Johnson returned home late last month after a week at Seton Medical Center, where she'd been admitted for a low-grade fever. Her husband died in 1973.
She died at her Austin home of natural causes about 4:18 p.m. CDT, said Elizabeth Christian, the spokeswoman. She said she was surrounded by family and friends.
She was hospitalized with a stroke in 2002 that left her with difficulty speaking. But even after that she continued to make public appearances and in May attended an event at the LBJ Library and Museum featuring historian Robert Dallek.
In March, she listened from Texas through a conference call when President Bush signed legislation naming the Education Department headquarters building in Washington, D.C., after her late husband.
The longest-living first lady in history was Bess Truman, who was 97 when she died in 1982.
The daughter of a Texas rancher, Lady Bird Johnson she spent 34 years in Washington, as the wife of a congressional secretary, U.S. representative, senator, vice president and president. The couple had two daughters, Lynda Bird, born in 1944, and Luci Baines, born in 1947. The couple returned to Texas after the presidency, and Lady Bird Johnson lived for more than 30 years in and near Austin.
"I think we all love seeing those we love loved well, and Austin has loved my mother very well. This community has been so caring," Luci Baines Johnson said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2001.
"People often ask me about walking in her shadow, following in the footsteps of somebody like Lady Bird Johnson," she said. "My mother made her own unique imprint on this land."
Former President George Bush once recalled that when he was a freshman Republican congressman from Texas in the 1960s, Lady Bird Johnson and the president welcomed him to Washington with kindness, despite their political differences.
He said she exemplified "the grace and the elegance and the decency and sincerity that you would hope for in the White House."
As first lady, she was perhaps best known as the determined environmentalist who wanted roadside billboards and junkyards replaced with trees and wildflowers. She raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to beautify Washington. The $320 million Highway Beautification Bill, passed in 1965, was known as "The Lady Bird Bill," and she made speeches and lobbied Congress to win its passage.
"Had it not been for her, I think that the whole subject of the environment might not have been introduced to the public stage in just the way it was and just the time it was. So she figures mightily, I think, in the history of the country if for no other reason than that alone," Harry Middleton, retired director of the LBJ Library and Museum, once said.