Mrs Lyndon “Lady Bird” Johnson
PHOTOS BY BILL WILSON
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel
BY BILL WILSON
I had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Johnson several times during the various campaigns her son in law, Chuck Robb, ran for positions in the state of Virginia – Lieutenant Governor, Governor and United States Senator. She was always gracious and went out of her way to put people at ease.
Mrs. Johnson campaigns for her son in law, Chuck Robb.
Having lived for 27 years in Washington, DC, there wasn’t spring that went by that I didn’t say a silent thank you to Mrs. Johnson for the corner plot of tulips, the colors of flowers planted along the sidewalks and the trees. It was through Mrs. Johnson’s efforts that garden clubs were organized to do plantings that beautified the city and eventually the entire nation. She was urging people to be good environmental stewards long before Earth Day and environmentalism became fashionable.
But some of my memories bring a smile to my face. There was the time she mistook me for Lynda. I had volunteered to pick up flowers from the Robb house and take them to another private home that was going to be the site of a fundraising reception honoring Mrs. Johnson. I got to the house and knocked on the front door.
I was told that the flowers are in the pool house. So I walked down to the pool house. Lynda was there and she showed me these huge cement urns full of carnations. They weighed a ton. She told me that I should go get my car and drive it down to the side door. So as I am walking back to the front door Mrs. Johnson starts down the stairs from the second floor. She calls out, “Lynda it is time for us to go. This is one reception I don’t want to be late for. We have to be there exactly at six so that gives us five minutes to get there.” As she got to the bottom step she turns, faces me and with a startled look realizes I’m not Lynda. So I said, “Lynda is at the pool house. I’m on my way there I’ll tell her what you said.”
That reception always epitomizes what I believe politics, particularly on the national level should be. One of the people who attended was the wife of Senator Frank Church. Senator Church had opposed President Johnson on the war. In most administrations and particularly the one that followed Johnson, that would be reason enough to be put on the enemy list. Instead there were no harbored grudges or misplaced anger. There was genuine affection as people who worked on various projects with Lady Bird had the chance to share memories and reminisces of good times.
There seems to be cruel irony to the fact that the First Lady who did the most to beautify our nation would become blind in her final years. In a March 12 email to me her daughter, Lynda, wrote, “Right now all I do is travel to Texas to take care of my Mother every month. I stay 2 weeks or so and read to her and try to make her laugh. Her mind is fine but her 94 year old body is winding down.”
There has to be some solace in a life lived so fully, that touched so many others and literally made the world a better place to be.
Bill Wilson is a veteran freelance photographer whose work is published by San Francisco and Bay Area media. Bill embraced photography at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR). Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past three years.