Outside Editorial: In fond memory of Lady Bird Johnson

Posted: Friday, July 13, 2007

A woman of dignity, compassion and grit. You could ask just about anyone who dealt with Lady Bird Johnson, and they would describe the late first lady the same way.

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Growing up in East Texas without a mother, young Claudia Taylor learned early the virtue of resilience. She took that trait with her into the larger world of national politics. She endured one Lyndon Johnson campaign after another, some with nasty edges to them.

All the while, she pressed her husband onward against his doubts and demons. And she promoted her beliefs in the natural world and the dignity of each human being in simple, human terms. To her, a clean Potomac River or a Texas field of wildflowers was a way to celebrate life. To her, the right of a black person to get a room in the same hotel as her family was about respect.

Many of Mrs. Johnson's beliefs arose from the soil of Texas itself. Certainly her passion for equal rights did, because she witnessed bigotry as a child.

Lady Bird Johnson came from money, too, but she didn't play the role of idle rich. She invested her inheritance in an Austin radio station that became the basis of the Johnson family's wealth. Like most businesswomen of her day, she worked quietly. But there was little doubt about her influence on the LBJ empire.

Of course, living with Lyndon Johnson was no easy task. A man of enormous energy, he didn't like applying the brakes to life.

His intensity led her and her family into the center of American life. From that tragic motorcade in Dallas to campaigns for civil rights across the South to mad world dashes, Mrs. Johnson personally witnessed the unfolding of the middle part of the 20th century.

And it wasn't just the Johnson family she represented. She also stood for us, the American people. She especially personified her native Texas, showing the world a grace and gentleness that often gets overshadowed by our state's reputation for bravado and grandeur.

For that, her nation and state say thanks. We agree with the conclusion of Lady Bird Johnson's biographer, Jan Jarboe Russell: This Texas original was "strong, resilient, immovable, capable of extracting all that she needs from the harshest environments."

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