White House insiders pay tribute to Lady Bird Johnson

Two former US presidents and five first ladies paid a final tribute Saturday to Lady Bird Johnson, remembered for her uncanny ability to calm her restless husband, former President Lyndon Johnson.

Speaking at her funeral in Austin, former Johnson White House aide Bill Moyers said her shy demeanor and grace cloaked a formidable influence on the colourful president at a time of great tumult and uncertainty.

"He needed her," recalled Moyers. "Lady Bird truly loved the man she often found impossible ... She often found herself in the path of his Vesuvius eruptions."

The widow of the former leader, nee Claudia Alta Taylor, died Wednesday at the age of 94. She has gone by the nickname Lady Bird since childhood.

Her husband, who was elected vice-president in 1960, took over the White House when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were among those who attended her funeral in Austin.

Also at the service were First Lady Laura Bush and four of her predecessors at the White House: Senator Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan and Rosalynn Carter.

Family representatives said more than 11,000 people filed into the LBJ Library and Museum to pay tribute to Mrs. Johnson, who lay in repose there at the exact spot where her husband's body was lying in state after his death in 1973, four years after he left the White House.

Harry Middleton, the former library director, said the public outpouring of sympathy underscored the former first lady's enduring legacy, which the advocacy of childhood welfare programs and efforts to clean up roadsides and beautify public spaces.

"She lit a fire in this country that has never gone out," Middleton said, quoting a former White House colleague. The funeral was scheduled to begin at 2:00 pm (1900 GMT).

A funeral cortege will carry Lady Bird Johnson on Sunday from Austin to the LBJ ranch, where she will be buried alongside her husband.