Former First Lady and environment champion Lady Bird Johnson has died at her home in Texas. The widow of President Lyndon Johnson was 94 and had been in failing health for some time. VOA's Greg Flakus has more about this remarkable woman in this report from our Houston bureau.
Although she came to prominence as the wife of a president, Lady Bird Johnson was regarded as a woman of great influence in her own right. She was a strong advocate for such programs as Headstart, to help underprivileged children succeed in school, and environmental protection. As first lady, she started a program of highway beautification that eliminated billboards from some stretches of federal roadways.
She was born Claudia Alta Taylor and acquired the nickname Lady Bird at birth when a nurse described the infant as pretty as a lady bird. She was considered shy while growing up in the small east-Texas town of Karnack, but she blossomed when she attended the University of Texas in Austin. That is where she met then congressional aide Lyndon Johnson, who proposed to her on their second date as Mrs. Johnson later recalled in a TV interview. "I think we both knew that we were better together than we were, or would be, apart," she said.
Mrs. Johnson helped her husband both morally and financially in his first run for Congress and was at his side in 1960 as he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination. He lost that to Massachusetts senator John F Kennedy, who later asked him to run with him in the vice presidential position. Kennedy won the election and Johnson became vice president. On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas and Mr. Johnson was thrust into the White House. Lady Bird had now become first lady of a land in mourning.
During her time in Washington, Lady Bird Johnson became known as a strong woman with southern charm and a genteel manner. As first lady she developed her own office within the White House, with two news media representatives to help her champion her causes with the public.
President Johnson chose not to run for re-election in 1968, amid growing discord over the Vietnam war. After he left office in January, 1969, he and Lady Bird retired to his family ranch in the Texas hill country, west of Austin.
After President Lyndon Johnson died in 1973, Mrs. Johnson continued her advocacy of environmental projects and helped establish a wildflower center in Austin that bears her name.
Lady Bird Johnson is survived by her two daughters, Lynda Bird Robb, wife of former Virginia Senator Chuck Robb, and Luci Baines Turpin, as well as seven grandchildren.