[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 12 July 2007, 00:28 GMT 01:28 UK
Obituary: Lady Bird Johnson
Lady Bird Johnson
Lady Bird: Influential First Lady
Lady Bird Johnson was the wife of the 36th president of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Naturally reticent, she played a key role during her husband's term of office.

Lady Bird Johnson was thrust into the limelight on a November day in 1963.

Most Americans remember where they were when President John F Kennedy was assassinated.

Few were more profoundly affected by the events of that fateful day than Lady Bird Johnson - wife of Vice-President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Whirlwind romance

Thrust into a role she neither wanted nor expected, her insecurity was all too evident: ''I feel like I am suddenly onstage for a part I never rehearsed,'' she remarked.

Born Claudia Alta Taylor in Karnack, Texas in 1912, to a prosperous landowner and merchant of English descent, she was given the nickname Lady Bird ("she's as purty as a lady bird") by a nursemaid.

A young Lady Bird Johnson
A young Lady Bird
As a schoolgirl she was extremely shy, and her cheerless attire seemed almost deliberately chosen to make her less attractive.

Her school newspaper joked that it was her ambition to become an old maid.

Later, at the University of Texas, she graduated in arts and journalism. In 1934, she met Lyndon Johnson, then a congressional secretary, who proposed to her on their first date. Two months later, they were married.

Successful businesswoman

Lady Bird Johnson's family inheritance helped her husband win a seat in Congress in 1937, and she worked to keep her husband's government office open during World War II.

In 1955, when he had a severe heart attack, she again helped his staff keep things running smoothly until he could return to his post as majority leader of the Senate.

I am suddenly onstage for a part I never rehearsed
Lady Bird after Kennedy's assassination
A successful businesswoman in her own right, Mrs Johnson developed a small, debt-ridden radio station in Texas into a multimillion-dollar radio and television broadcasting corporation.

Despite her initial apprehension, she travelled 35,000 miles during the 1960 election, successfully campaigning for Democratic candidates. Then, as wife of the vice-president, she became a goodwill ambassador.

'Pure hell'

Moving to the White House after Kennedy's assassination in 1963, she undertook a tour of the South to persuade Southerners to support civil rights.

Despite bomb threats, the cold shoulder from some governors and heckling from crowds, Mrs Johnson completed a four-day trip of eight states, arguing that segregation must end if the South was to prosper.

Lady Bird and LBJ in 1930s Washington
Lady Bird and LBJ in 1930s Washington
She also created a First Lady's Committee for a More Beautiful Capital, and was responsible for the blossom of the cherry trees and the two million daffodils that grace Washington, DC each spring.

Then came the Vietnam War, which slowly began to destroy her husband's presidency.

''The first years in the White House were wine and roses,'' she said. ''But by 1967 and 1968, it was pure hell.''

Modest but influential

When the prospect of re-election loomed, Lady Bird feared her husband would suffer another heart attack and persuaded him not to run for a second term; his dramatic television announcement shocked the nation.

In 1969 the couple returned to Texas, but Johnson began to smoke, gained weight and, in 1973, suffered a fatal heart attack.

First Lady: With LBJ in 1966
First Lady: With LBJ in 1966
After his death, Lady Bird began to focus on her family, believing she had neglected her daughters during LBJ's years in office.

She later used her position to encourage an interest close to her heart, preserving America's wildflowers and enhancing the beauty of the United States.

She established the Lady Bird Johnson Center in Austin and, in 1977, was presented with the country's highest civilian award, the Medal of Freedom.

Despite her unassuming manner, Lady Bird Johnson played a key part in her husband's ascension to the presidency; and her interest in social, political and environmental problems made her one of the most influential First Ladies since Eleanor Roosevelt.

And of her husband, she once reflected, ''He pushed me, drove me, at times he humiliated me, but he made me become someone bigger and better than I would have been.''

US former First Lady Johnson dies
11 Jul 07 |  Americas

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific