AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Former presidents, fellow first ladies and about 1,800 other people attended a private funeral Saturday for Lady Bird Johnson, celebrating her memory against a backdrop of the wildflowers and hymns that she loved.
Two huge, multicolored floral displays at the front of the Riverbend Centre sanctuary included wildflowers and blooms from the gardens of friends of the former first lady, an environmentalist devoted to preserving wildflowers and native plants. Behind the pulpit, a large window looked out onto the Texas Hill Country.
“She’s once again united with her man for rides together through the ranch in the sky,” Tom Johnson, a family friend and chairman of the LBJ Foundation, told those gathered.
Several family members were expected to speak, as well as TV host Bill Moyers, a former press secretary for President Johnson.
Those attending included first lady Laura Bush; former first lady Barbara Bush; former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton; former President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn Carter; former first lady Nancy Reagan; Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy; and Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his wife, Anita.
Three days of ceremonies began Friday with private family prayer services, followed by a huge public outpouring. As the former first lady’s body lay in repose at the LBJ Library and Museum on Friday and Saturday, more than 11,500 people paid their respects.
Johnson died Wednesday at her Austin home of natural causes.
“My mother had 94 delicious years. She lived them to the fullest,” daughter Luci Baines Johnson said Friday. Despite her mother’s medical problems, she said, Lady Bird Johnson recently toured a university art museum and delighted in wildflowers in the nearby Hill Country.
“As long as she drew breath, she was wanting to discover and make an impact on beauty,” her daughter said.
Ceremonies for Johnson began with a religious service for the family Friday at her beloved Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which Johnson founded in 1982 to further the preservation of wildflowers and native plants.
Her casket was later placed on the spot in the Johnson library where her husband’s casket rested after his death in 1973.
Family friend and spokesman Neal Spelce said that the program for Saturday’s services has been in the works for several years and that Lady Bird Johnson was heavily involved. She loved hymns, so a lot of singing was planned, he said.
At the end of Saturday’s service, the University of Texas Longhorn Band was to play “The Eyes of Texas.”
The service was invitation-only but is being televised on C-SPAN. Johnson will be buried Sunday next to her husband at the LBJ Ranch.
Johnson, who was born Claudia Alta Taylor on Dec. 22, 1912, in the East Texas town of Karnack, got her nickname in infancy from a caretaker nurse who said she was as “pretty as a lady bird.”
Associated Press writer April Castro contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: http://www.ladybirdjohnsontribute.org
LBJ Library and Museum: http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu