Lady Bird loved natural beauty

In the early 1960s, when Lady Bird Johnson first began her personal campaign to plant wildflowers along the nation's highways, the environmental movement was in its infancy. But while she undoubtedly was more concerned with beautification than environmentalism, the former first lady managed to serve both.

Lady Bird Johnson, who died Wednesday at age 94, had been the wife of President Lyndon Johnson. She had been a long-time advocate of civil rights, efforts to eradicate poverty and, perhaps above all, the beautification of America.

The cause that came to bear her trademark began as a drive to plant native bluebonnets, the Texas state flower, along the Lone Star State's highways. That blossomed into a campaign to replace roadside billboards and junkyards with trees and wildflowers nationwide.

The $320 million Highway Beautification Bill, passed in 1965, became known as "The Lady Bird Bill." She had been a prominent supporter of the bill, giving speeches around the nation and lobbying Congress to pass it. While Johnson might not have fully comprehended the long-term benefits of that effort at the time, she lived long enough to witness the value of "greening" the countryside.

As first lady, she adeptly played the role of adoring wife and supporter of the president, always dignified and genteel in distinct contrast to her often coarse and abrasive husband. Many testify, however, that despite her gentle nature, she also possessed a steely will and could be a persuasive force in the White House.

In her own right, she will be remembered as one of the nation's most prominent champions of the environment and the preservation of native plants and wildflowers. Thanks to her, that effort should continue to thrive for generations to come.

Former first lady was an avid environmentalist before her time.