Remarks on Presenting the Congressional Gold Medal to Lady Bird Johnson

 

April 28, 1988

 

The President. Thank you all very much, and welcome to the White House. Or should I say that for all of us -- here at the White House and on Capitol Hill -- welcome back, Lady Bird, it's good to have you home. [Laughter]

 

Mrs. Johnson. Thank you, sir.

 

The President. Some of the duties that come with this job of being President are more enjoyable than others, but nothing could give me more pleasure than honoring one of our finest First Ladies with the Congressional Gold Medal.

 

I would bet that not 1 American in 10 could tell you who Claudia Alta Johnson is -- [laughter] -- but the whole Nation came to love, admire, and respect Lady Bird Johnson, as she was her husband's most important aide, and he served his country for 7 years here in the White House. When she first met L.B.J., then a former schoolteacher and executive secretary to Congressman Kleberg in Austin, Lady Bird said, and I'll quote, ``I knew I'd met something remarkable, but I didn't know quite what.'' [Laughter] Well, it didn't take Lyndon long to figure out what we all came to know later -- that he'd met someone quite remarkable, too -- because he proposed to her on the second date.

 

Sam Rayburn, L.B.J.'s political mentor, said that marrying Lady Bird was the best thing Lyndon had ever done, and though his career and his Presidency were filled with many momentous achievements, I think we'd all have to agree. As skilled businesswoman, unofficial diplomat and spokesman for America, regent for the University of Texas -- Lady Bird has had an impressive career in her own right. Her concern for the poor and underprivileged helped inspire a nation. Her efforts to beautify America, continuing up to today, still blossom in our Nation's Capital and beside our nation's highways.

 

In 1941, when L.B.J. was in Congress, the Johnsons were invited to a reception at the White House; and Lady Bird wrote in her diary afterwards, ``I went to my first -- will it be my last and only -- dinner at the White House!'' [Laughter] There were probably times in later years when you were the hostess of your umpteenth state dinner at the White House, when you wished it had been your last. [Laughter] But few First Ladies have carried off their unofficial, but, as I can attest, essential roles with more energy and dedication than you. As you once said, the First Lady is elected by a constituency of one, and there's no doubt that the best candidate won. [Laughter]

 

It certainly took a strong-willed First Lady to complement a President few would ever have called a milquetoast. [Laughter] ``Earthy'' is more often the adjective used. I remember one story of the time that L.B.J. was speaking to a group in North Carolina, and after about 50 minutes, the audience became restless. Lady Bird wrote a note on a piece of paper saying ``close soon'' and slipped it to him. [Laughter] L.B.J. took it, held it up, and read it aloud to the audience. [Laughter] And then, after the laughter died down, he continued with his speech. [Laughter]

 

Well, before someone hands me a note, I will close these remarks, simply saying that it gives me the greatest pleasure to present Claudia Alta Johnson with this special gold medal.

 

Mrs. Johnson. Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, I know very well how gracious and generous this is of you in your busy, demanding lives to give this time to make this such a great day for me and my family and many of my friends. And I also think what it really means is a salute to all those people all over this great land who are working to preserve and to enhance the natural beauty of America. I thank you.

 

The President. Now, we're going to slip out the way we came in, all of us, and then when they release you we will have a chance to see and greet each one of you individually right down here in the hall. So, we shall be saying hello in just a few minutes.

 

Note: The President spoke at 5:05 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. After the ceremony, the President hosted a reception for Mrs. Johnson in the Residence.