Celebrating the life of a first lady

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 16, 2007

On Saturday, more than 1,800 people attended a private funeral for former first lady Lady Bird Johnson. But, across the country, thousands more celebrated the contributions of Johnson.

You may not realize it, but when you drive the interstate highways and see wildflowers in the median, that is part of her contribution.

She was born Claudia Alta Taylor in Karnack, Texas, but Mrs. Johnson had family roots in Alabama.

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Her mother was from Alabama, and the former first lady visited the area throughout her life, according to an article in the Austin American-Statesman.

She was thrust into the spotlight when her husband, Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. By all accounts, she had a strong influence on Johnson during his presidency, which included the Civil Rights Movement, the eventual passage of the Voting Rights Act and the controversy over America’s role in Vietnam.

But, primarily, she was an environmentalist. While first lady, she enlisted the aid of friends to plant thousands of tulips and daffodils in the nation’s capital. In addition, the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 was the result of her national campaign for beautification, according to information from the LBJ Presidential Library.

The results are those wildflowers we enjoy when driving the country’s highways.

She also founded the National Wildflower Research Center, which is dedicated to the preservation and re-establishment of native plants in natural and planned landscapes. Selma’s Mallieve Breeding is a member of the center.

These were but a few of the contributions she made. The President and Mrs. Johnson gave their LBJ ranch house and surrounding property to the people of the United States in 1972, though she continued to visit the house.

In celebrating the accomplishments of this former first lady, the nation says thanks.