(AXcess News) Houston – She was considered one of America’s favorite women and now our nation mourns her loss. America’s first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, died at her Austin, Texas home Wednesday of natural causes at the age of 94.
She was born in Karnack, Texas, on December 22, 1912 and named Claudia Alta Taylor. At the age of two, a family maid once said, the girl was “purty as a lady bird,” and from then on everyone began calling her Lady Bird.
Claudia “Lady Bird” Taylor graduated from the University of Texas in 1934 with a degree in Journalism at a time when women were hard pressed to have a career of their own, let alone a college education. Her goal was to become a reporter. But instead of moving on to develop a career in media, she met a young upcoming political hopeful who was in Washington working as a Congressional aide the same year she graduated from college. After only seven weeks of knowing each other, Lyndon B. Johnson proposed marriage, though it was rumored he had asked her for her hand in marriage on their first date.
Lady Bird married Lyndon Johnson two months later but little did she know she would go on to become the nation’s First Lady when her husband became the 38th President of the United States upon the death of John F. Kennedy when he was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Lady Bird and then Vice President Johnson were just two cars behind and she saw the whole episode. The death of President Kennedy threw the Johnson’s into the roles of President and First Lady overnight and she went on to champion social and environmental issues which she is known for today.
She once remarked about her marriage in a 1988 NBC News interview: “In our case, we were better together than we were apart and I knew that, and I loved my share of life with him.”
The couple had two daughters, Lynda Bird and Luci Baines. But their family life quickly changed with her husband’s political career taking off and Lady Bird Johnson was left to her own most of the time to raise their two children.
Lady Bird was a sharp businesswoman and actually made the first loan to Lyndon Johnson’s Congressional campaign from funds she earned from her radio station. Having been born in a prominent East Texas family, she had invested $17,500 from money she inherited from her mother into buying a radio station that grew into a multimillion dollar business which sustained the family from then on.
While in the White House, Lady Bird championed the cause of planting trees and flowers and is credited with the creation of the Highway Beautification Act in 1965 that she lobbied for [it was fondly referred to as the Lady Bird Act], which encouraged planting of wildflowers on public land and regulation of billboards on federal highways.
Though Lady Bird Johnson was shy about public speaking, she once delivered 47 speeches in four-days across an eight-state tour by train, speaking about social equality and civil rights which led to the creation of the landmark Civil Rights Act that President Johnson backed. It was 1964, just one year after the death of President Kennedy and throughout that speaking tour Lady Bird often faced hostile crowds, but she braved their heckling to speak out in behalf of minority rights. It was the first solo whistle-stop tour of a first lady in history.
Lady Bird retired to the family’s ranch in Texas alongside her husband in 1969 after having watched him be beat down by liberal lawmakers who won out in the war in Vietnam, forcing the Johnson administration to withdraw U.S. troops that later had haunted him with regret up to his death in 1973.
She stayed active in public life but in 2002, after suffering a stroke, her ability to speak was impaired, though at times she made public appearances with her last being in May at the LBJ Library and Museum.
Lady Bird Johnson had only been home from the hospital two weeks after suffering from pneumonia when she passed away. A true American, she once said that she hoped patriotism would be important to all Americans and for her role in U.S. history, the first lady did indeed help build America’s character and I like to think her life alone was an example of dedication and devotion to her family, God and her country.
A patriot and true American, our nation’s first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, will be sorely missed. God bless her and America.