Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lady Bird Johnson, 1912-2007

I can't say that I particularly admired Lyndon Baines Johnson, although I do acknowledge him as one of the most interesting, colorful, and significant American Presidents of the 20th century. From all that I have read about him over the years, he must have been about as difficult to live with as a category-5 hurricane; but by all accounts, he did manage to marry exceptionally well. Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson, known to everyone since her infancy as Lady Bird, wed the future President after a whirlwind courtship during the autumn of 1934; and during the remaining 38 years of LBJ's tumultuous life, she became his trusted advisor and confidante, an astute and successful businesswoman in her own right, and a charming and gracious counterweight to his volcanic, overwhelming personality. She endured his infidelities, barbs, and other assorted cruelties, but in her case, this was no sign of weakness, as Lady Bird Johnson could have defined the term "steel magnolia." As one commentator put in in today's online edition of National Review, "In an age where marriages end over far less, she was an example of the sacrifice and endurance that must undergird matrimony. 'For better or for worse,' goes the phrase, and Lady Bird Johnson had it worse too often. When it was better, it was an expression of her endless love."

I have always regarded this lovely and remarkable woman with respect and affection, and thus am saddened at the news of her passing yesterday at age 94. Nearly four decades after the Johnsons left the White House, Lady Bird is best known for her efforts at conservation and beautification of the environment, and her most enduring memorial today might be the millions of wildflowers which now grace the byways of her beloved Texas. If I am ever able to go there and photograph them, I will think of her. Requiescat in pace.

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