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Lady Bird Johnson’s Life, Interests Remembered

Lady Bird Johnson died Wednesday at her home in Austin, Texas. Historian Michael Beschloss describes her life and special projects during her husband Lyndon Johnson's presidency, including environmental preservation.

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    The former first lady was 94 years old when she died on Wednesday from natural causes, a full 34 years after her husband's death in 1973. In a moment, we'll talk with presidential historian and NewsHour regular Michael Beschloss.

    But, first, an excerpt from a 2001 PBS documentary hosted by Michael looking at Mrs. Johnson's life outside that of her husband's.

  • LADY BIRD JOHNSON, Former First Lady:

    One of the fires in my life is just a considerable admiration and love of this country, and I looked at our national capital. It sure needed some color.

  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian:

    She started her campaign to beautify America in Washington, D.C. There, she raised private money to bring the city alive with plants, trees, and flowers, in both public areas and the inner city. To this day, when the daffodils emerge, many Washingtonians think of Lady Bird Johnson.

    Her campaign spread to other cities. Then, with LBJ's support, Lady Bird did battle with powerful business and political interests, pushing Congress to restrict ugly highway signs and billboards and the squalor of junkyards.

    LYNDA JOHNSON ROBB, Daughter of LBJ: The Lord knew what he was doing when he took daddy first, because I don't think daddy could have gotten along without mother. I really don't think he could have lived without mother. He depended on her so much.


    In spite of her loss, Lady Bird was starting to live on her own terms. LBJ had been bored by sightseeing, but now Lady Bird was free to tour the world. She also had time to establish her own legacy. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a working farm and research facility that studies wildflowers from every region of the country.


    If one considers other first ladies who had causes, admirable as that's been, they've tended often to not carry them on past the time they're in the White House. But Mrs. Johnson, it's all of a piece from 1965 onward.


    Nowadays, Lady Bird Johnson does what she rarely had time for as a political wife. She is absorbed in her family, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, who call her "Nini." Catherine Robb lives in Austin to be near her grandmother.

    CATHERINE ROBB, Granddaughter of LBJ: We have sort of a standing Tuesday night dinner-date and either one of us can cancel if, as she says, "If we get a better offer," but she's the only one that gets a better offer. I don't think there is a better offer.


    She's not one to reveal a lot. The older I've gotten, I have found myself, you know, bringing my video camera and saying, "Nini," you know, "tell me about this." And the home movies I've started doing lately to see her really interact with the kids.

    LUCI BAINES JOHNSON, Daughter of LBJ: She's 88 years old. Her core vision is gone, so her world of reading is gone.


    You know how to smile. You really know how to smile.


    Getting old is not for the faint of heart. It takes an extraordinary stamina to do it with exceptional grace, and mother is doing just exactly that.