Tag Archives: Lady Bird Johnson

Do it . . . for Lady Bird!

We have returned home to the Metroplex after a wonderful two-week sojourn through much of Texas and a good bit of Louisiana.

I want to revive one memory of that trip. The flowers pictured with this post are Texas bluebonnets, the official state flower. These particular blossoms greeted us at the gate of Pedernales Falls State Park, which is about a 15-minute drive from the grave of one Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of the 36th president of the United States.

I thought a lot of Mrs. Johnson as my wife and rolled through the South Plains and into the Hill Country en route to the Golden Triangle and then to New Orleans. You see, Mrs. Johnson made “beautification” the theme of her time as first lady.

We were informed on our trip that this spring has produced a glorious extravaganza of bluebonnets, Indian paint brush and assorted other wildflowers along our state highways. Lady Bird would be proud.

Then it occurred to me that some years ago — I cannot remember when, precisely — the Texas Legislature pondered whether to re-design the state’s license plates to include an image of a bluebonnet in full bloom. It’s the official state flower, yes? Yes!

So why not adorn our state license plates with this image?

As I recall, some legislators objected to the flower design because — and this can happen, one might argue, only in Texas — they thought the image lacked a certain machismo.

I happen to disagree with that notion.

I also believe the bluebonnets would make a wonderful symbol to grace both ends of our motor vehicles.

Lady Bird Johnson used the influence of her unelected office to advance the cause of gussying up this state — and the nation.

The flora my wife and I saw on our trip through Texas shows the glory of what Lady Bird intended. She succeeded.

Why not honor this dedicated Texan, legislators, by memorializing our license plates with the state flower?

Just set the macho crap aside and do the right thing.

Lady Bird had the right idea


DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas — Lady Bird Johnson well might have been the most intuitive first lady ever to grace the White House.

The picture accompanying this blog post illustrates my point.

The picture is of a small meadow just down the road and around the corner from my brother-in-law’s home in this tiny burg near Austin.

The flowers brightened our day as we drove to his house after a lengthy drive from Amarillo.

Lady Bird became first lady in November 1963 under the most dire of circumstances. Her husband’s predecessor as president, John F. Kennedy, had been murdered in Dallas. The nation, indeed the world, was in shock. We were grieving deeply.

That was the context the Johnsons inherited when Lyndon Johnson became president and “Bird” became first lady.

Understand this: I have no earthly idea whether Lady Bird was reacting to our national tragedy when she came up with the beautification initiative. First ladies have “themes” they promote while they live in the White House. Mrs. Johnson chose to make beautification her signature effort.

She embarked on a campaign to promote wildflower planting along public rights of way throughout the nation. Texas, of course, became a sort of “ground zero” for that effort. And why not? She and Lyndon were native Texans, so she might have felt obligated to gussy up her home state.

I’m happy to report that in the Spring of 2016, Lady Bird Johnson’s flower-planting initiative has taken root.

The flowers in this picture are wildflowers. Of that I’m quite sure.

So, too, are the bluebonnets and the Indian paint brush we saw spread for miles along Texas 71 between Llano and the outskirts of Austin. I regret I didn’t take pictures of them; you’ll just have to take my word for it. They’re gorgeous.

With that, I want to bow in honor of Lady Bird Johnson. She helped lift the nation — whether she intended to or not — from its deepest despair.


What a way to go, Mr. President


STONEWALL, Texas — My wife and I came to this place expecting to be moved in some fashion.

Neither of us expected precisely what we felt when we walked up to this family plot on the sprawling LBJ ranch, which the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the National Park Service have turned into a national historic site.

The cemetery lies under a grove of live oaks. It’s got a few headstones. The tallest two grave markers belong to President Lyndon Baines Johnson and first lady Lady Bird Johnson.

It was the circumstances of the president’s death that struck me the most today as we paid our respects to the late former first couple.

My wife marveled at the peace and serenity of the place. She said — only half-jokingly, I believe — that she “wouldn’t mind” being buried there. It won’t happen, obviously.

But later on our tour of the ranch, we heard from a young guide — who admitted he was born in 1991, 28 years after LBJ’s death — about how the president was able to go out “on his own terms.”

Johnson’s presidency perhaps killed him. I remember how he had aged in the more than five years he served as president. He’d had two heart attacks already, the first one coming in 1955 when he was just 47 years of age.

The Vietnam War raged throughout his presidency — which began, of course, under the enormous weight of international tragedy, the assassination of President Kennedy.

Johnson would win election in the 1964 landslide. Then he would become the target of intense national anger over the conduct of the war he inherited from his predecessor.

He left office in January 1969 and returned to the place along the Pedernales River that formed his character.

The young guide informed us how LBJ — once he settled in back at the ranch — resumed his smoking habits, dragging on Lucky Strike; he drank too much; he ate all the foods he wasn’t supposed to eat, given his history of heart trouble.

Then, just four years and two days after leaving the White House, the fatal heart attack struck him. He phoned his Secret Service garrison the moment he felt it coming on and told them, “Get in here, boys; something bad is happening.”

He died essentially in his bedroom.

President Johnson was just 64 years old when he died. But he was an old 64.

They buried him under the live oaks about 200 yards from where he came into this world in a modest home that’s been reconstructed.

My thought as we left that place today? What a way to go, Mr. President.


Another giant passes from the scene

Like any lawyer, Jerry Johnson knew the jokes about his profession.

He could recite them all, even though they were countless.

He could laugh at them, knowing full well that he really didn’t fit the mold.

The great man wasn’t brash. He wasn’t conceited. He wasn’t a fast-talker.

Jerry Johnson instead was a man of high honor, integrity, humility and if you were in a hurry to get a quick answer from him, well, forget about it. It took Johnson a while to get his point across. His drawl was as slow and fluid as they come.

Amarillo lost a gigantic figure in its legal community with Johnson’s death.

Me? I lost a friend, a great source for all things political and someone with whom I occasionally shared some political commonality.


Jerry was a dedicated Democrat. He cherished his friendship with, say, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson … to name perhaps the state’s most high-profile powerhouse Democratic couple. He also had friends on the other side of the aisle.

I recall attending an event in Johnson’s honor, commemorating his many years as a lawyer at the Underwood firm. Texas Comptroller John Sharp made the trip from Austin to salute Johnson. One dignitary couldn’t be there, but someone read a letter from him. It came from Karl Rove, the Republican political genius and architect of George W. Bush’s two successful campaigns for Texas governor and, oh yes, his two successful campaigns for president of the United States.

Democrat or Republican, they all respected and admired Jerry Johnson.

We’d have lunch on occasion and we’d go over the political doings of the day. He’d grouse about Republicans, praise Democrats. He actually asked my opinion on this or that. I’d give it to him and this wise and gentle man would actually listen — as in actually pay attention.

The Amarillo Globe-News named him Man of the Year in the 1990s and later included him in its list of the Panhandle’s most influential people.

He was a huge presence and was the personification of integrity and honor.

My favorite comment from those who remembered Johnson comes from Amarillo lawyer Selden Hale, who said: “If you had to pick a daddy and couldn’t pick your own, he would be the one I’d pick.”

Yep. Amarillo’s heart today has a huge hole in it.