Mourners pay tribute to Lady Bird at Texas funeral

AUSTIN, Texas Sat Jul 14, 2007 10:41pm EDT

1 of 5. Luci Baines Johnson kisses the casket of her mother, former first lady Lady Bird Johnson, as Lynda Johnson Robb (L) watches during a funeral service and tribute held at the Riverbend Centre in Austin, Texas July 14, 2007. Lady Bird Johnson died on July 11 at the age of 94.

Credit: Reuters/Ralph Barrera/Pool

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AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - In a funeral at a church overlooking her beloved Texas hills, Lady Bird Johnson was remembered on Saturday as the devoted wife of former President Lyndon B. Johnson and a courageous advocate for social causes.

Her closed pine coffin, covered by a white and blue pall, sat between two colorful flower arrangements on an altar with windows opening out to the hills beyond.

It was the kind of view Mrs. Johnson fought to preserve during her years in the White House, when she urged America to protect the beauty of nature, particularly wildflowers.

The former first lady died on Wednesday in her Austin home at the age of 94 and was to be buried on Sunday beside her husband on the LBJ ranch at Stonewall, Texas.

Lyndon B. Johnson died of a heart attack in 1973, four years after leaving the White House and returning to the family ranch in the Texas Hill Country, 50 miles west of Austin.

Journalist Bill Moyers, White House press secretary during the Johnson presidency, said Lady Bird gave counsel and support to her husband as he rose from U.S. representative to senator to vice president and finally president.

He was elected vice president on the Democratic ticket with John Kennedy in 1960 and assumed the top office when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas three years later.

Johnson won a full term in 1964, but amid the tumult caused by the Vietnam War, did not seek re-election in 1968.

Moyers told of how one day LBJ was looking for his wife in a crowded room and shouted "Where's Lady Bird?"

"Right behind you, darling, where I've always been," he said Lady Bird replied.

But he described Mrs. Johnson as a powerful advocate in her own right for the environment and civil rights.

Moyers told of how she faced down angry mobs as she rode a train through the U.S. South to speak for the 1964 civil rights legislation her husband had just signed to end discrimination against blacks.

"Yes, she planted flowers and worked for highways and parks and vistas that opened us to the technicolor splendors of our world," Moyers said.

"Walk this weekend among the paths and trails and flowers and see the beauty she loved. But as you do, remember, she also loved democracy and saw a beauty in it," he said.

Several of Lady Bird's granddaughters spoke warmly about the woman they called "Nene," and daughters Lynda Robb and Luci Baines Johnson gave emotional tributes, sometimes turning and speaking to her coffin as if she were still alive.

"As you always told us, know that you are loved," said Robb, who placed her hands on the coffin and briefly bowed her head.

Among the mourners were former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, first lady Laura Bush and former first ladies Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan.

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