Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Death Watch: Lady Bird Johnson

Lady Bird Johnson will be best remembered for outliving her husband, 36th President Lyndon Baines Johnson, by 34 years. And for her name -- Lady Bird.

It was as a child growing up (briefly) in Austin, Texas that I was first made aware of the existence of the former first lady. At the time she was solidly in the local public eye because she was promoting and heading all sorts of wildlife conservation efforts in the Austin area. Like any other seven year old, I found her name fascinating.

I decided the reason behind her odd moniker was that a Lady Bird was what a first lady became after she was made a widow. It probably had something to do with recently learning about caterpillars and butterflies and first ladies and widows. Then, I concluded, the reason Jackie Onassis wasn't bestowed the same title is because she was off attending fashion shows and gallivanting with Greek shipping tycoons instead of honoring her late husband's memory by dedicating her life to planting flowers on the side of the highway.

OK, I just made up the Jackie O. part. But wouldn't it be cool if I had been capable of such self-generated righteous indignation at age seven? The part about why I thought Johnson was called Lady Bird is totally accurate, though. In fact, it was only recently I learned the truth.

Anyway, her given name was Claudia. From infancy, when a nursemaid commented that Johnson was "pretty as a ladybird," nobody ever called her Claudia. And now, 94 years later, Lady Bird Johnson is dead.

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