"Ugliness is so grim," Lady Bird Johnson once said. "A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions."
“I have always been a natural tourist. Lyndon used to say I kept ‘one foot in the middle of the big road’. Wherever I go in America, I like it when the land speaks its own language in its own regional accent.”
It's hard not to think of Lady Bird Johnson whenever I drive to Washington, DC from Alexandria; her imprint on the beauty of this city and the George Washington Memorial Parkway is significant. (George Washington Memorial Parkway is now part of the National Parks System.) The broad lawns, seasonal flowers, and trees that frame the nation's capital are a direct result of her association with Keep America Beautiful, Inc. while she was First Lady. She literally changed Washington, DC into a garden city.
Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson followed a very popular First Lady who had been widowed by a tragedy that shocked the world. Lady Bird Johnson continued the work started by Jacqueline Kennedy, who had restored the White House and had begun to beautify Pennsylvania Avenue, making her own mark by improving the natural environment of not only the Washington, DC area, but the entire nation, national parks, historic sites, and memorials. She believed that beauty could improve the mental health of the society .
“Though the word beautification makes the concept sound merely cosmetic, it involves much more: clean water, clean air, clean roadsides, safe waste disposal and preservation of valued old landmarks as well as great parks and wilderness areas. To me…beautification means our total concern for the physical and human quality we pass on to our children and the future.”
Restoring the health of our society in a politically and socially divisive era was also the agenda of her husband, who coined the term, Great Society. She had a great deal of influence over her husband and conservation policy during his administration: her southern sensibilities translated into the, 'iron hand 'neath the velvet glove'.
The official Presidential memorial to her husband is in the midst of the GW Parkway in Virginia on the former Columbia Island across from the Pentagon. Our 36th President is represented by a large, rough, unpolished granite monolith that was taken from the LBJ ranch in Texas. It was a spot that the First Lady herself had chosen.The island with its serpentine paths amongst 500 pine trees, dogwoods, and wildflowers has been renamed in her honor. The vista of the city from the memorial is breath-taking.
The next time you visit Washington, DC and Virginia, stop and smell the flowers in remembrance of a truly beautiful woman who improved the quality of our lives.
In one of her last meetings with the Society for a More Beautiful National Capital, Lady Bird talked of the accomplishments.
"Over the past three years, the people in this room have produced nearly two and a half million dollars to take steps toward making this nation's capital more livable and more beautiful. Not only is your handiwork enjoyed by the three million people who live and work in this city, it can be seen also by seventeen million visitors who come here each year, and our work has inspired other cities across the country," she told the group. "This has been one of the most lovely springs I can remember in Washington's history. It has also been one of the most poignant and grave. That fact underscores the urgency of improving our environment for all people."It has been requested that donations be made in her honor as a final tribute to the Lady Bird Wildflower Center.
The LBJ Library and Museum and Lady Bird Johnson Final Tribute
National First Ladies Library
Keep America Beautiful
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
George Washington Memorial Parkway