Mourners line up to pay respects to Johnson

The Baltimore Sun

AUSTIN, Texas -- Shelley Hoelscher spent a long time standing in the hot sun, a young son and baby girl in tow, for a chance to pay her respects to Lady Bird Johnson during an emotional public viewing yesterday.

She could almost feel the cool air from the entrance when she was amazed to see Luci Johnson Turpin, the former first lady's daughter, greeting her mother's admirers as they came through the door of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum.

"Thank you so much for coming to your library," Turpin said. "Please, please come in out of the heat."

Tears sprang to Hoelscher's eyes as Turpin knelt in front of the stroller and gazed into little Madelynn's eyes. Turpin talked to the children about her mother and her own family - the living legacy of one of the nation's most popular first ladies, who died this week.

In a long day of goodbyes, thousands of admirers filed past Lady Bird Johnson's casket in the marble hall on the fourth floor of the library - the spot where her husband, President Lyndon B. Johnson, lay in state in 1973.

Behind the casket stood a tall marble pylon etched with famous quotations from her husband.

The day began with a private Eucharist for family and close friends and a private viewing at the library about 1 p.m. Then began a 22-hour public viewing that was expected to create lines throughout the night.

An invitation-only funeral today is expected to draw several dignitaries, including former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton; former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter; first lady Laura Bush; former first lady Barbara Bush; Susan Ford Bales, daughter of former President Gerald Ford; Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former President John F. Kennedy; and Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

"If there was ever royalty in Texas, Lady Bird embodied it," said Susan Moeller, 45, who dressed in a white blouse and blue skirt - a tribute to Johnson's beloved bluebonnets.

Turpin said she was honored by the outpouring of love shown by admirers who didn't let the above-90-degree temperatures keep them from paying respects to her mother, even though most had never met her.

"The greatest inheritance we have are our parents' friends - many of whom we've never met and they never met," Turpin said, as she stood at the door collecting hugs and handshakes from strangers. "She is their first lady."

When she realized that hundreds of people had been waiting for hours to see her mother - including one elderly woman who arrived at 6 a.m. - she was so touched by their support that she insisted on leaving the private family area and talking to them "because that's what my mother would do."

The viewing is one of two times this weekend that the public will be able to pay their respects to the former first lady.

Tomorrow, the public is encouraged to line the route from the state Capitol building to her burial place in Stonewall, at the family ranch.

For many, yesterday's visit to Johnson's casket was their chance to say goodbye to a public figure they connected to on a personal level.

"She bridged this country through a terrible time of crisis with magnificent grace," said Stephen Spencer, who visited with his wife, Kippling, and their daughter, Sydney.

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