AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Family prayer services and a huge public outpouring Friday ushered in three days of memorial ceremonies honoring the late Lady Bird Johnson, an environmentalist first lady who clung to her Texas roots.
Johnson made a final trip to her beloved wildflower center, where friends and family gathered for a private religious service Friday morning accented by some of her favorite flowers.
Afterward, the family greeted her casket once it was moved across town to the LBJ Library and Museum at the University of Texas at Austin.
Surrounded by historical documents and mementos of Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, the former first lady’s oak casket, draped in an Episcopalian pall, was placed in the exact spot where her husband’s casket rested after his death in 1973.
Lady Bird Johnson died Wednesday of natural causes.
“My mother had 94 delicious years. She lived them to the fullest,” daughter Luci Baines Johnson said Friday.
She said despite her mother’s medical problems, she recently toured a university art museum and delighted over a pasture of wildflowers in the nearby Hill Country.
The former first lady will lay in repose for 22 hours, until 11:30 a.m. today. Then there will be an invitation-only televised funeral. She will be buried Sunday next to her husband at the LBJ Ranch.
Anyone may visit the library to pay respects, and about 600 admirers were waiting when the doors opened. Luci Baines Johnson was there to greet the first arrivals, saying, “Thank you for loving her and for coming.” The first person to file past the casket wiped a tear from her eye as she left the building.
“I’m very honored. What a neat lady,” said Mary Vidani, 57, who lives near Austin. “I had to be here. I always wanted to meet her and shake her hand and this is as close as I could get.”
Pete Pollard, 68, a Vietnam veteran from Austin, arrived two hours before the casket did. He recalled shaking her hand at a White House Christmas event. “She even hugged my sister. She was a real nice lady,” Pollard said.
Earlier in private, the family circled the casket, placed in the library’s “Great Hall,” beneath huge glass display cases of presidential papers stored in red binders with gold seals.
Some of the family joined hands and touched and kissed the casket. A pastor from Lady Bird Johnson’s church led them in the Lord’s Prayer. The University of Texas Chamber Singers performed an a cappella version of “Goin’ Home.”
Earlier, at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the former first lady’s casket was draped in white cloth with blue embroidery. It sat in front of a large portrait of her wearing a hat in a field of flowers.
Two vases filled with large floral arrangements featuring bluebells, her favorite flower, flanked the portrait.
“We are here to let Lady Bird go and to celebrate her glad release,” said the Rev. Stephen Kinney, former rector at Johnson’s home church, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg.
The service ended with a song written for Johnson. One of her daughters, Lynda Johnson Robb, watched from the front row, holding a grandchild and swaying to the music and smiling.
The Eucharist, a religious ceremony re-enacting the Last Supper, took place in a room constructed with limestone and oak, both native to the Hill Country. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows on one side of the room overlooked a Central Texas vista, peppered with wildflowers, oak trees and prickly pear cactus.
The setting reflected Johnson’s request to architects designing the wildflower center so that it looks “natural, like God just placed it there.”
An environmentalist devoted to preserving wildflowers and native plants, Johnson founded the center in 1982.
One of the visitors who came to pay their respects Friday, 48-year-old Renee Poteet of Austin, clutched six red carnations in tribute to Johnson.
“She spoke in the language of flowers. Everybody could appreciate that,” Poteet said. “We’ll miss her in the world.”