The Last Repose of Lady Bird Johnson
Notes from the public viewing of Lady Bird Johnson.
By Richard Whittaker,
9:18AM, Mon. Jul. 16, 2007
In trucks, in cars, in buses and even coaches, they came to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum to say farewell to Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson. Most of them probably wouldn't recognize the name. But that was because, to everyone, she was Lady Bird.
From Friday afternoon, she had laid in repose in her husband's presidential library. In the great hall, beneath the carved presidential seal, a wall of her husband's papers and the watchful eye of news cameras. Even by Saturday morning, the queue of those wishing to pay their final respects was still quickly replenishing itself. Bikers in Harley shirts, the politerati in suits, families with young children and those old enough to remember when Lady Bird was a congressman's wife. They signed the condolence sheets in brown felt tip. By home address, they had come from Austin and around the state and far beyond. They all passed through quietly, up the 23 stone steps to where she lay. Some bowed their heads, some crossed themselves, but most stood in silence for a few moments and moved on.
The museum store, out of taste and decorum, had closed for the day. Not so construction at the nearby Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, from where the heavy, steady tonk-tonk-tonk of machinery drifted across to the museum (because, after all, respect is one thing, but football is football, and this is Texas).
Outside, under a graying sky and a dull wind that occasionally shook the half-masted flags, groups of visitors stood around re-telling the old stories about Lady Bird. That it was she that humanized Lyndon, that could calm him with a touch on the arm or the right word. That she was the woman who had touched the man that ran the Senate with a rod of iron, touched him so deeply that he proposed after knowing her for seven weeks. There was talk of the Great Society and civil rights and voter protection and, in darker tones, of Vietnam. There were those that remembered her as the UT Journalism grad that established Austin's KLBJ TV – now Fox 7 – and News Radio 590 KLBJ as a media presence in Central Texas. And, of course, the wildflowers.
The conversations about buds were almost the only flowers there were. A few daisies peaked out from concrete planters on the concourse. There was a lone sunflower in a basket by the outer doors, the sole floral tribute. And draped over the coffin was a comforter, its oriental-influenced design of flowers and vines trailing out from vases, picked out in gold thread. It seems no one missed what would have been the unfitting nature of plucking flowers for a woman who spent her life trying to keep them in the wild where they belonged.