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Lady Bird Johnson, former US first lady, dies

Lady Bird Johnson, former US first lady, dies
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First Published: Thu, Jul 12 2007. 11 39 AM IST
Updated: Thu, Jul 12 2007. 11 39 AM IST
Houston: Lady Bird Johnson, who quietly served as one of the most trusted advisers to her husband President Lyndon Johnson, died of natural causes on 11 July at the age of 94, family spokeswoman Elizabeth Christian said.
The former first lady died at her Austin, Texas, home with friends and family around her, Christian said.
During their White House years Lady Bird campaigned for her Democratic husband’s civil rights, environmental and war-on-poverty policies and also zealously pushed her own pet cause -- beautifying America.
“Lady Bird Johnson was a wonderful first lady and one of the kindest and most caring and compassionate people I’ve ever met in politics,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy in a statement.
“She was a great friend to the Kennedy family, in both good times and bad, and we cherished every moment we spent with her,” Kennedy said.
Lady Bird was at Johnson’s side as he came under fire for escalating the Vietnam War and fully supported his surprising decision not to seek re-election as president in 1968.
A PBS documentary said she had long feared the stress of the presidency would kill her husband and that she insisted his speech announcing his plans include the definitive phrase “I shall not seek and I will not accept” his party’s nomination.
She was often the target of anti-war hecklers herself but of her years in the White House, Lady Bird recalled: “A lot of it was desperately painful but on balance, I loved it.”
Claudia Alta Taylor was born in Karnack, Texas, near the Louisiana border, on 22 December 1912. She was 2 years old when she was given her nickname by a maid who described her as “purty as a lady bird.”
She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1934 with bachelor of arts and bachelor of journalism degrees, and met Johnson, then a congressional aide, the same year.
On their first date he asked her to marry him, and although she thought at first his proposal was a joke, they were married two months later in November 1934.
Johnson was elected to the House of Representatives in 1937, and 11 years later won a Senate seat by a mere 87 votes.
In 1960, he was elected vice president on the ticket with John Kennedy and succeeded to the presidency three years later when Kennedy was killed by a sniper in Dallas. The Johnsons were two cars behind Kennedy in a motorcade when he was shot.
“When our nation called upon Lyndon Johnson to take the oath of office in the face of tragedy he did so with his courageous wife beside him,” said former first lady Nancy Reagan in a statement on 11 July.
Johnson was elected to a full term in his own right in 1964.
During his time in office it was often Lady Bird whom he privately turned to for advice and consolation.
Lady Bird, a nature lover, successfully lobbied for the Highway Beautification Act which encouraged wildflower planting on public land and regulation of highway billboards.
After Johnson died of a heart attack in 1973, Lady Bird shunned active party politics.
In 1988 she was honored for her environmental and humanitarian work, becoming the first wife of a president to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.
She also was active in running the family business, which operated radio and television stations in Austin for 60 years until 2003.
Even after a 2002 stroke that affected her mobility and speech, she attended board meetings for the company, which she founded in 1942 by buying a radio station with $17,500 in inheritance.
The Johnsons had two daughters, Lynda Bird, who is married to Charles Robb, the former Virginia senator and governor, and Lucy Baines, who is married to Ian Turpin. She had seven grandchildren -- six girls and one boy.
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First Published: Thu, Jul 12 2007. 11 39 AM IST