MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Lady Bird Johnson is being remembered today as a first lady and a lover of nature. She died yesterday at the age of 94. When you drive down a highway and see clusters of wildflowers in the median, you have Mrs. Johnson to thank for that. She was the force behind a number of beautification acts, both state and federal.
Commentator Amy Stewart writes about flowers and the flower business. She's also a native Texan. And she says Lady Bird's legacy goes well beyond flowers.
Ms. AMY STEWART (Author, "Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers"): I never saw what the American landscape looked like before Lady Bird Johnson came along, but my father did. When he was a kid in Texas, his parents would take him and his brothers for long drives in the country. Dad remembers his father's approach to litter control. If anybody had a paper bag or a bottle cap or an apple core, he'd say, get that out of the car, and one of the boys would roll down the window and toss it out. The inside of the car stayed clean, and nobody gave much thought to what the highway looked like as they blew past it. In a state as big as Texas, who would even notice one more little scrap of paper?
But that's not the Texas I knew. In 1969, the year I was born, Lady Bird Johnson started handing out the Texas Highway Beautification Awards and writing personal checks to the winners. Soon, everybody was planting bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, and black-eyed Susans in the hopes of winning her approval. Driving out to see the wildflowers bloom was something everybody did in the spring. As for the trash? Lady Bird thought that people just wouldn't have the nerve to throw garbage on a field of bluebonnets, our state flower. She was right.
She knew that we Texans are excessively proud of anything that comes from our home state. If she could just remind us that nothing is more Texan than our native flora, we would nurture and defend it. Today, a portrait photographer in Texas can make a good living photographing families in a field of bluebonnets. We all know that those are Mrs. Johnson's flowers.
She liked to say that she wanted Vermont to look like Vermont and Texas to look like Texas. And in fact, her touch was felt across the country. In 1969, the Nixons and the Johnsons flew to Northern California to dedicate a 300-acre redwood grove in the First Lady's honor. Now, I live just a few miles from the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. Those ancient redwoods with their understory of sword ferns usually just remind me how far away from Texas I am. But it occurs to me today that Mrs. Johnson's spirit is alive here, too. This grove is a reminder that she had something grander in mind than just pretty flowers.
NORRIS: Commentator Amy Stewart is the author of "Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers." You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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