Monday, November 9, 2009

Lady Bird Johnson... What She Did For Texas And National Highways

There is nothing I love more than driving down to the Hill Country of Texas during any time of year, but particularly so during the spring and fall months. The main reason is for the breathtaking color you experience there, with Bluebonnets and thousands of other wildflowers. As a matter of fact, you'll find wildflowers lining the highways that cross this great nation, thanks to the widow of Lyndon Baines Johnson, our 36th President of The United States.

Upon their retirement, the Johnsons returned to Texas, living in their ranch house in Stonewall, not far from Austin. The former First Lady immediately involved herself in her community. She led the Austin Town Lake Beautification Project, a local effort to create long trails for residents who wanted to walk, hike and bicycle along the Colorado River there, and to plant flowering trees along the path. This continues to be the most popular running spot in Austin, to date. She encouraged similar activity around the state, establishing the Texas Highway Beautification Awards. She not only hosted the annual award ceremony but handed out checks from her personal account to the winners.


Understanding her place in history, she also began the task of editing what would become her memoirs, A White House Diary (1971), drawn from the hundreds of hours of her daily taped recollections as First Lady. In December 1972, the Johnsons deeded their ranch house and property to the National Park Service. As other presidential couples had also arranged for, they maintained the right to live there for life. Ironically, Lyndon Johnson died of a sudden heart attack just a month later. In time, Mrs. Johnson would serve as the honorary chair of the LBJ Memorial Grove. Located along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., the park borders the one named for her.


Lady Bird Johnson, while she was still alive, became a living legend in Texas as well as in Washington D.C. Her greatest legacy was her Beautification Act of 1965 (AKA: Lady Bird's Bill). Her vision was to protect every single species of wildflower throughout North America and her success went far beyond mere beautification. She grew up loving the outdoors and the beauty of natural plant life in a town located on the Louisiana-Texas border. As First Lady, she made it her mission to protect and preserve the native plant life all over America, not just in her native Texas.

Lady Bird always worried that the word beautification would not command the attention her pet project deserved, but she proved herself to be a major mover and shaker in a world of mostly male politicians. When she set her mind to it, she always got what she wanted. The result has been the beautiful highways of America and the wildflowers that adorn them each year in the spring and fall.

I'm not sure if the policy extends to other states, but here in Texas there is a wildflower seed exchange that goes on by the Department of Highways, throughout the state. After mowing the sides of highways, each county sends their seeds to all the other counties, for distribution along those same highways. Eventually, it will be gorgeous all over Texas wherever they have had rain the previous year. Rain of course, is the prerequisite here.


Prompted by her concern that native plants and indigenous wildflowers were rapidly disappearing from the American landscape, on her 70th birthday in 1982, Lady Bird Johnson created the nonprofit National Wildflower Research Center. She made a personal donation of sixty acres of land near Austin, and $125,000; matching gifts flooded in, establishing a $700,000 endowment and the center opened the following year. She served as chairman of the board of directors. In 1988, Lady Bird Johnson co-authored with Carlton Lees the book, Wildflowers across America, donating all proceeds to the center. In 1992, to mark her 80th birthday, the LBJ Foundation Board of Directors created the Lady Bird Johnson Conservation Award. In 1995 the center expanded into a new forty-two-acre facility. In 1998, the center's board unanimously decided to rename it the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.


Death
11 July 2007, her Austin home. At 94, she lived longer than any other First Lady except Bess Truman. She is buried on the ranch next to her beloved husband, Lyndon Baines Johnson.


If you ever get a chance to go to Austin, don't miss going to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center. And, if you go in the Spring, you'll also be able to experience the breathtaking views of acres and acres of Bluebonnets along Texas highways. You'll be so thrilled that you did.

7 comments:

Mental P Mama said...

She really did amazing things for our planet. Way ahead of her time...

Staci said...

True class.

The Incredible Woody said...

An amazing woman! Thank you - I had no idea about all she had accomplished.

Beth Dunn said...

I've always admired Lady bird! She is more of an inspiration now. xoxo

SC

Snooty Primadona said...

I didn't go into all the details but that little Lady Bird took lobbyists & large corporations by the horns & fought to get things done. She always won. And, she always stressed that it was a bipartisan issue. What a great lady she was!

Daryl said...

She did with her velvet glove the things her Lyndon couldnt get done with all his shouting ...

Janie at Sounding Forth said...

I always loved LadyBird.

 

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