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Yesterday, I watched some video clips of Mrs. Johnson’s memorial service, and interment service. I realized I had tears in my eyes. My first First Lady is now a part of those eternal ages that have claimed the likes of so many like her. People like Lady Bird Johnson, Beverly Sills, and so many others like them are the folks from whom I reassure myself that I am on the right track: I am a good person, I try my best, I love my God and my fellow man, and I am contributing something to this world in the great attempt to make my own individual contribution something that counts.

While a majority of my country men follow, in the news and tabloids, the lives of the likes of Paris Hilton, Brittany Spears, the Royals, etc., I choose to follow, and appreciate the lives of the truly great who will live on for many generations.

While our country was engaged in hideous turmoil of the late 1960’s, Mrs. Johnson taught us how to wade through the ugliness to build a world in technicolor beauty.


The daughters of President & Mrs. Johnson


STONEWALL, Texas — Lady Bird Johnson arrived at her final resting place beneath a canopy of oak trees Sunday, beside the late President Lyndon Baines Johnson at the family’s ranch in the Texas Hill Country.

Relatives and close friends of the Johnsons said a final goodbye to the former first lady near the banks of the Pedernales River.

Grandson Lyndon Nugent said Johnson made all her grandchildren feel special, whether she was taking them on hiking and camping trips or, especially in her later years, quietly visiting with them at the LBJ Ranch.

His mother, Luci Baines Johnson, reminded her children for more than three decades that it was important to spend as much time as possible with their grandmother, whom they called “Nini,” because “she might not be here tomorrow,” Nugent said.

“Sadly, tomorrow has arrived,” he said.

Johnson, who died Wednesday at 94, was remembered as an astute businesswoman, a woman who worked to preserve nature and the devoted wife of a president.

“I’m not sure why she was so preoccupied with this, but she always seemed to be wondering if she had done enough for the world, regardless of her own condition,” Nugent said.

Along with Nugent’s remembrance, prayers and “Amazing Grace” completed the brief service, held in the Johnson family cemetery where the late president and more than 30 other extended family members are buried.

Lyndon Johnson, who died in 1973, was president from 1963-69. Once he left office, he and Lady Bird Johnson retired to the ranch and Austin.

Earlier in the day, thousands of admirers, many clutching bundles of the wildflowers she loved, lined streets in Austin and roads in the Hill Country as Lady Bird Johnson’s body was taken from the state capital to the LBJ Ranch, about 70 miles west of Austin.

Members of the crowd applauded and cheered as the procession passed through downtown Austin, and a few women blew kisses.

Outside Austin, people gathered along highways and in little towns, many holding American flags, some clutching wildflowers and some holding umbrellas against the hot sun.

Wildflowers and a sign reading “Thank You Lady Bird” adorned a tractor. Another sign read “God Bless a Great Woman.”

More people lined the streets of Johnson City, President Johnson’s boyhood home, and the main street was lined with little Texas and American flags stuck in flower pots.

In Austin, retiree Kate Hill handed out sunflowers from her garden to people waiting for the procession. Hill said Johnson’s work inspired her to convert her grassy lawn into an expanse of wildflowers and other native plants, and she wanted to thank the former first lady for the beauty.

“It’s the passing of an era,” said Sarah Macias, 48, who works for the city’s parks department and came to watch with her husband and a co-worker.

Three days of ceremonies had started Friday with family prayer services and a public visitation at the LBJ Library and Museum. More than 11,500 people paid their respects over nearly 22 hours.

About 1,800 people, including family, friends and presidents, attended a two-hour funeral Saturday at Riverbend Centre overlooking the Hill Country. People attended included former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, first lady Laura Bush and former first ladies Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. 


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I was born in the fall of 1964.  A month later, Lyndon Johnson was elected president in his own right, and one of the most brilliant woman in American history was to remain in the White House as First Lady for another four years.

 Lady Bird Johnson was MY first First Lady, and I have always adored her. Friends called to share the news, and friends and family immediately sent Emails relating her passing….


AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) — Lady Bird Johnson, who was first lady during the 1960s and in her later years became an advocate for beautifying public landscapes, died Wednesday, family spokesman Tom Johnson said. She was 94.


Lady Bird Johnson’s real name was Claudia.

She was the widow of Lyndon Baines Johnson, sworn in as the nation’s 36th president on November 22, 1963, just hours after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Lady Bird Johnson was briefly hospitalized last month with a low-grade fever. She was released and returned to her Austin home on June 28. After suffering a stroke in 2002 that limited her ability to speak, she communicated chiefly by writing.

Upon news of her death, Texas Gov. Rick Perry ordered flags in the state to be flown at half-staff.

“Lady Bird Johnson embodied all that is beautiful and good about the great state of Texas,” Perry said. “She inspired generations of Americans with her graceful strength, unwavering commitment to family and keen sense of social justice.”

The former first lady was born Claudia Alta Taylor in 1912 in Karnack, Texas, a small town near the Louisiana line. She got her unusual nickname while still a toddler from her nurse, who proclaimed the child was as “purty as a lady bird.”

Lady Bird attended St. Mary’s Episcopal School for Girls, a junior college near Dallas and then transferred to the University of Texas at Austin. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in history in 1933, then stayed an extra year to earn a journalism degree.

She hoped to become a newspaper reporter, but those plans changed after she met a 26-year-old congressional aide named Lyndon Baines Johnson.

They married in 1934 after a whirlwind courtship and soon moved to Washington.

Early on, Lady Bird Johnson proved herself to be the quintessential political wife. In 1937 she used part of an inheritance to fund her husband’s first bid for public office and campaigned with him to win a congressional seat.

She used more of her mother’s money and Johnson’s connections to purchase a faltering Austin radio station in 1942 for $17,500. She turned it around and later used the station as a base for a multimillion-dollar communications company based in Austin.

After three failed pregnancies, she gave birth to the Johnsons’ first daughter, Lynda Bird, in 1944, followed by Luci Baines three years later.

Lyndon Johnson rose quickly in politics, becoming the youngest Senate majority leader.

In 1960, Johnson set his sights on the presidency but lost the Democratic nomination to Kennedy. A day later, he agreed to become Kennedy’s running mate.

Lady Bird Johnson traveled more than 35,000 miles during that campaign.

After one of the closest presidential elections in U.S. history, Johnson was sworn in as vice president on January 20, 1961.

With Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson became the 36th president.

As the Johnsons moved into the White House, Lady Bird Johnson “went around and went to all of the staff that was remaining in their jobs, told them how happy she was to have them there,” said Leticia Baldridge, Jacqueline Kennedy’s former social secretary.

“She needed their help. She needed their support. And, of course, they all just immediately turned from supporting the Kennedys to supporting the Johnsons. That’s what the staff does in the White House.”

In the landslide election of 1964, Lyndon Johnson won victories in the Northeast, West and Southwest. Of the eight Southern states that many had expected to vote for Republican Barry Goldwater, six went for LBJ — in part, it was said, because of the first lady’s efforts.

During her husband’s one term as president, Lady Bird Johnson worked tirelessly for the beautification of America, promoting the Highway Beautification Act, which sought to limit billboards. She was also a strong advocate for the Head Start program.

In 1982, she founded the National Wildflower Research Center outside of Austin. The center was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 1998. Its mission is the research and preservation of native plants throughout the United States.

Public and private memorial services are planned, but details have not yet been released, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Events are likely to include a public viewing at the LBJ Library on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, followed by a funeral in Austin and burial next to her husband at the LBJ Ranch 35 miles west of Austin, the paper reported.

I woke this morning, preparing to leave for the Outer Banks, to find that Beverly Sills had passed away. I remember seeing her on Johnny Carson, and due to these appearances, I began enjoying opera as a young boy and teenager. I was fortunate to meet Ms. Sills in the mid-1990’s, and she was as charming, warm, and beautiful in person as she was on stage and screen.

Opera star Beverly Sills dies at 78


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NEW YORK (AP) — Beverly Sills, the Brooklyn-born opera diva who was a global icon of can-do American culture with her dazzling voice, bubbly personality and management moxie in the arts world, died Monday of cancer, her manager said. She was 78.


Beverly Sills has been a noted opera singer and arts administrator.

It had been revealed just last month that Sills was gravely ill with inoperable lung cancer. Sills, who never smoked, died about 9 p.m. Monday at her Manhattan home with her family and doctor at her side, said her manager, Edgar Vincent.

Beyond the music world, Sills gained fans worldwide with a style that matched her childhood nickname, Bubbles. The relaxed, red-haired diva appeared frequently on “The Tonight Show,” “The Muppet Show” and in televised performances with her friend Carol Burnett.

Together, they did a show from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera called “Sills and Burnett at the Met,” singing rip-roaring duets with funny one-liners thrown in.

Long after the public stopped hearing her sing in 1980, Sills’ rich, infectious laughter filled the nation’s living rooms as she hosted live TV broadcasts. As recently as last season, she conducted backstage interviews for the Metropolitan Opera’s high-definition movie theater performances.

Sills first gained fame with a high-octane career that helped put Americans on the international map of opera stars.

Born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn, she quickly became Bubbles, an endearment coined by the doctor who delivered her, noting that she was born blowing a bubble of spit from her little mouth.

Fast-forward to 1947, when the same mouth produced vocal glory for her operatic stage debut in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in a bit role in Bizet’s “Carmen.” Sills became a star with the New York City Opera, where she first performed in 1955 in Johann Strauss Jr.’s “Die Fledermaus.” She was acclaimed for performances in such operas as Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe,” Massenet’s “Manon” and Handel’s “Giulio Cesare,” and the roles of three Tudor queens in works by Gaetano Donizetti.

Her 1958 appearances as Baby Doe would become among her best known, in a tale of a silver-mine millionaire who leaves his wife for Baby Doe and eventually dies penniless.

“I loved the role,” Sills wrote in her 1976 autobiography. “I read everything that had ever been written about her. … I absorbed her so completely in those five weeks of studying the opera that I knew her inside and out. I was Baby Doe.”

Sills’ face once graced the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines as an American who had conquered the classical music world, even abroad — at the time a rarity.

But as a child star, she was not above singing radio commercials with lyrics such as: “Rinso White, Rinso Bright, happy little washday song.”

It was not until late in her career that she achieved the pinnacle, appearing at the Met, the nation’s premier opera house.

Her debut on that stage didn’t come until 1975, years after she became famous. In her memoir, she said longtime Met general manager Rudolf Bing “had a thing about American singers, especially those who had not been trained abroad: He did not think very much of them.”

Sills’ Met debut, arranged after Bing retired, was in “The Siege of Corinth,” and she recalled that “I was welcomed at the Met like a long-lost child.” (She also recalled having a couple of friendly encounters with Bing and found he “could not have been more charming.”)

Described by former Mayor Ed Koch as “an empire unto herself,” Sills sat on several corporate boards, including those of Macy’s and American Express.

Sills retired from the stage in 1980 at age 51 after a three-decade singing career and began a new life as an executive and leader of New York’s performing arts community. First, she became general director of the New York City Opera.

Under her stewardship, the City Opera, known as the “people’s opera company,” became the first in the nation to use English supertitles, translating operas for the audience by projecting lyrics onto a screen above the stage. The Met followed, later adopting its titles on the back of audience seats.

In 1994, Sills became chairwoman of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. She was the first woman and first former artist in that position.

After leading the nation’s largest arts complex through eight boom years and launching a redevelopment project, she retired in 2002, saying she wanted “to smell the flowers a little bit.”

After six months, she was back.

“So I smelled the roses and developed an allergy,” she joked as she accepted a position as chairwoman of the Met. “I need new mountains to climb, which is why roses don’t appeal to me.”

In a 2000 interview, she said, “It was never part of my plan to retire as a prima donna. I never thought the day I stopped singing would be the day I stopped working.”

Sills was a master fundraiser, tapping her vast network of friends and colleagues for money that bolstered not only Lincoln Center but also non-artistic causes such as the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the March of Dimes, a job she called “one of the most rewarding in my life.”

The word around New York was that if anyone needed to raise several million dollars in one night, they could turn to Sills, whose name drew donors in droves.

She also lent her name and voice to the Multiple Sclerosis Society; her daughter, Muffy, has MS and was born deaf.

At a 2005 Manhattan benefit for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Sills told an audience that included her daughter: “One of the things that separates the two-legged creatures from the four-legged ones is compassion.”

Added the host for that evening, Barbara Walters: “She can go from doing a duet with Placido Domingo to doing a duet with a Muppet.”

Sills’ compassion extended to her autistic son and to her husband, who lived with her at their home as his Alzheimer’s disease progressed.

Still, through harrowing personal times, she never lost her own sense of humor, accompanied by a billowing ripple of laughter that was all the more warming because it was born not of frivolity but of a survivor’s grit.

She spoke like she sang — with bravado. The words poured out of her like a force of nature, sprinkled with good-natured gossip and insights, cheeky jokes and probing questions.

She balanced the challenges of her private life with the joy of singing, stepping onstage and transforming herself into characters that made her forget her troubles.

Stage fright was foreign to her. Before curtain time, she would make phone calls or munch on an apple, then sweep on to deliver her roles with exuberance.

A coloratura soprano, Sills was for years the prima donna of the New York City Opera, achieving stardom with critically acclaimed performances in Verdi’s “La Traviata” and Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” among dozens of roles.

She is credited with reviving musical styles that had gathered dust, such as the Three Queens — the trio of heroines of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena,” “Maria Stuarda” and “Roberto Devereaux” — in which she starred as Elizabeth, a role she called her greatest artistic achievement.

Onstage, her style stressed the theatrical portrayal of the character, as well as the music.

“Opera is music AND drama,” she wrote in her 1976 memoir, “Bubbles: A Self-Portrait.” “I’m prepared to sacrifice the beautiful note for the meaningful sound any time. … I can make a pretty tone as well as anyone, but there are times when the drama of a scene demands the opposite of a pretty sound.”

As chairwoman of the Met, she was instrumental in proposing Peter Gelb, now general manager, for that position, a move that brought a new leader who injected a dose of new moves that pushed up attendance and ticket sales.

Citing personal reasons, Sills bowed out as Metropolitan Opera chairwoman in January 2005, saying, “I know that I have achieved what I set out to do.” At the time, she had recently suffered a fall and was using a wheelchair.

In 2006, she presided over the inaugural Beverly Sills Artist Award at the Met, given to baritone Nathan Gunn.

Sills grew up in a “typical middle-class American Jewish family,” as she put it. She was first exposed to opera by listening to her mother’s record collection.

She began taking weekly voice, dance and elocution lessons as a young child and at age 4 appeared on a local radio show called “Uncle Bob’s Rainbow Hour.”

When she was 7, her name was changed to Beverly Sills — a friend of her mother’s thought it was a more suitable stage name — and she began 34 years of study with vocal coach Estelle Liebling.

After an audition arranged by Liebling, the young Sills won first place in the “Major Bowes Amateur Hour” and became a regular member of its “Capitol Family Hour show.” As a teenager, Sills made two repertory tours and finished high school by correspondence course at Manhattan’s Professional Children’s School.

Primped up in big bows and crisp pink dresses by her mother, she set off to sing on the radio, at ladies’ luncheons and at bar mitzvahs. At 16, billed as “the youngest prima donna in captivity,” she joined the touring J.J. Shubert operetta company, starring in Gilbert and Sullivan productions.

Her opera debut came in 1947, in the role of Frasquita in “Carmen” with the Philadelphia Civic Opera. For several years, Sills sang opera when she could, touring twice with the Wagner Company, while performing in the Catskills and at a Manhattan after-hours club.

She sang briefly with the San Francisco Opera Company, making her debut there in 1953 in a secondary role in Boito’s “Mefistofele.” In 1954, she sang the role of Verdi’s Aida in Salt Lake City before joining the New York City Opera in 1955.

In 1956, Sills married Peter Greenough, a journalist who later quit the news business to manage the family’s affairs as his wife’s career flourished. He died in 2006.

After a whirlwind of performances in the early 1960s, Sills hit her stride as Cleopatra in Handel’s “Julius Caesar” in 1966, when the New York City Opera officially opened its new home at Lincoln Center.

“When the performance was over, I knew that something extraordinary had taken place,” Sills wrote. “I knew that I had sung as I had never sung before, and I needed no newspapers the next day to reassure me.”

Abroad, Sills sang at such famed opera houses as La Scala and Teatro San Carlo in Italy, London’s Royal Opera at Covent Garden and the Berlin Opera.

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July 2007
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