Skip to content

Running Amok

It’s a most unusual race

With candidates running apace

And like others I cringe

At the lunatic fringe

That’s competing in this dreary chase

We have Christy and Jeb Bush and Walker and Huckabee

And others with names that escape me—luckily

Two dozen names are too much to remember

And we’ll have more candidates by November

I’m sure what they’ll wonder as they hit the stump is

How in the hell are we going to Trump this.


Winsome Wendy


Millions of women have varied their ages

For various reasons at various stages

And most of us from every gender and race

Have beefed up our resumes in the right place

But when these old tools were used by Wendy Davis

Republicans dissed her like Hertz disses Avis

While Democrats thought her offense was so thin some

Suggested it made Wendy even more winsome

We think she could give Texas its finest hour

But helping us Democrats regain our power

This could be done if we called out the rolls

Got off our asses, got to the polls

And broadcast the issues we stand by forthrightly

And gently enhanced our curriculum vitae

Gwen Gibson

Wildflower Center Turns Over New Leaf

Wildflower Center Turns Over New Leaf        (820 words)

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in southwest Austin will open a ground-breaking family garden this May 4 designed to bring more visitors to its doors while providing children of all ages an antidote to the problem known as Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD).

Built with more than $5 million in donations, the garden covers nearly five acres of woodlands and meadows all filled with creative play-to-learn attractions. Officially it is called the Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin Family Garden in honor of the couple who donated $1 million to the project. But it is better known as the Luci and Ian garden. And some supporters call it “the garden of yes we can.”

That’s because it represents a sea change in the Center’s programming for children. Heretofore few spaces have been open in the 279-acre Center where children could frolic freely. The new family garden, in sharp contrast, will allow children and their friends, parents and grandparents to let the good times roll.


Officials believe the garden wilfamily_garden_wildflowerl double the number of children who visit the Center and increase general attendance by 30 percent within three years.

It certainly has that potential. More than an enchanted playground, it is also an outdoor science laboratory where children can enhance their knowledge of biology, botany, ecology, geology, history and more through a score of “nature play” attractions.

These include: Giant bird nests kids can crawl into; a spiral wall they can climb on; an elevated boardwalk for viewing trees; a grotto with a cave and waterfall; a pond where children can discreetly observe wildlife through a blind; a “stompery” featuring stacked tree trunks, and a metamorphosis maze youngsters can explore while learning from statues how tadpoles turn into frogs.

Dinosaur prints were placed in the garden by experts from the Texas Memorial Museum to accurately reflect the tracks dinosaurs left in Texas centuries ago.

Amid all this is a one-acre play lawn, where youngsters can make up their own games and a hop scotch area using the Fibonacci sequence. The garden’s home base is a solar-paneled pavilion, seating 100. Lynda Johnson Robb, Luci’s sister, donated   $500,000 to the pavilion which is billed as perfect for concerts and birthday parties or for just reading books in the shade.

“I tell everyone that this is no McDonald’s play scape,” says Executive Director Susan K. Rieff.  “It’s a garden, but it’s full of cool features. Our vision from the beginning was to provide a safe place where kids could know the joy of playing outdoors.”

Luci Johnson emphasizes that adults can utilize the Luci and Ian garden, too. “We will have outdoor, self-propelled athletic equipment here, similar to tread mills or stationary bikes,” she says. “So while the children are out discovering nature the mommas, daddies, grandparents or Aunt Agathas of the world can be watching them, not just from a bench, but while getting their own exercise.”

In view of all it offers, the family garden is considered the perfect cure for Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). While not a medical diagnosis, many experts–including pediatricians–use the term in describing problems faced by children who spend too little time outdoors.

The term was coined by author Richard Louv in his popular 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.” Louv found too many children are leading sedentary, indoor lives watching screens or electronics.  This, he warned, leads to NDD and subjects children to obesity, attention disorders and depression.

Directors of the Wildflower Center, well aware of the problem, started talking a decade ago about a family garden which would make the center more child-friendly.  After careful planning and successful fund-raising, architect W. Gary Smith, lead designer of the Wildflower Center, created the master plan for such a garden.

Constructed with all natural materials, the new garden meets the rigid requirements for a sustainable site, meaning it will protect and enhance the environment.

Rieff has expressed high hopes that all this will make Austinites more aware of the Wildflower Center’s national and international fame.

Established 32 years ago, the Wildflower Center has become the world’s primary source of information on the sustainable use and conservation of native plants, wildflowers and landscapes.

The Center’s web site gets some six million hits annually.  Its Native Plant Information Network (NPIN), with a data base of more than 7,700 species, is this nation’s premier native plant website. Its program called “Ask Mr. Smarty Plants” gets one million hits annually.  And now, with an educational playground in its backyard, the Center, offers another service: the RX2 cure NDD.

“I hope the garden will be embraced by children of all ages for decades to come,” says Luci Johnson.  “Nature is really for all of us. God’s not making any more of it. And we can preserve it, love, honor, and sustain it. Or we can lose it.  The choice is up to us.”

Gwen Gibson



Cruz Control

Cruz Control

He entered the Senate demanding the stage

And took it by staging an ongoing rage

The Democrats snickered as he had his say

Republicans bickered but gave him his way

The Tea Party darling, he talked through the night

Extolling the blessings of Texas’ Far Right

He wanted Obamacare turned into spam

And made his case—strangely—with Green Eggs and Ham

The government shutdown was mostly his making

Though members of Congress are surely not aching

Now we have to put up with his vitriol

“Til his colleagues learn how to use Cruz control

Gwen Gibson

Down Memory Lame

My Unforgettable Memory Lapse

By Gwen Gibson

I always knew my mental agility would decline as I grew older.  But I had one mental lapse that defies all reason. For some four years—if my memory serves me right—I kept forgetting to cancel my subscription to papers on how to cure memory disorders that I had ordered from Johns Hopkins Medicine. As a result, these accumulated in a corner of my office where they rested, unread, with two books I had purchased on how to develop a “memorable memory.”

I ordered this material, initially, because I was having some typical memory lapses like losing my car keys and glasses, putting mayonnaise on my cereal, and forgetting what I went upstairs for.  But once the material arrived I didn’t want to read it. I thought it would depress me by emphasizing (one) that I’m in my dotage, (two) that I am losing brain cells and (three) that there’s no cure for items one and two until science discovers an elixir that works like Viagra on the brain.

Recently, however, overcome by guilt and curiosity, I decided to read through this trove of valuable information. And, mirabile dictu, I discovered the outlook is not as grim as I feared.  The neuroscientists and physicians quoted throughout this four-year collection agreed on one principal: i.e., that while our brain does shrink as we age, we continue to create new neurons and reboot neural connections as long as we live.

But we need to regenerate these neural trails. To do so, the experts agreed, we must follow six basic rules: (1) Eat a well-balanced diet (2) drink moderately, if at all (3) exercise daily (4) be a lifetime learner (5) get sufficient sleep (6) remain socially active.

Having learned these basic facts, why did I continue reading my all memory material? Because I kept finding so many interesting, funny, contradictory and helpful hints on how to accomplish those six steps.

Take rule one on eating healthfully. Both the bulletins and books had mouth-watering suggestions–some of them blatantly commercial–on the best foods to eat.  Honorable mention, but no scientific proof, went to blueberry pie, strawberry yogurt,  turmeric, mustard, salmon and other fatty fish, dark chocolate, walnuts, soybeans, myriad vitamins, and even coffee. One writer recommended five cups of coffee a day as protection against cognitive impairment. Two servings daily of fresh veggies was considered a given.

The opinions regarding rule two were more to my liking. Many experts seemed reluctant to recommend a total ban on alcohol while suggesting that mild drinking could be beneficial. “Women who regularly drink wine may have a reduced risk of developing dementia compared with those who abstain,” one article from Johns Hopkins Medicine stated.  I recite this to myself every time I open a new bottle of cabernet sauvignon.

Support for 30 to 45 minutes of daily exercise was unanimous, with the writers offering different tips on how best to achieve this. They included: walk the dog three times instead of twice daily; take stairs instead of elevators; do water aerobics (a good way to keep your head above water); when driving, park blocks from your destination and walk the remaining distance; exercise outdoors because it’s “more fun;” and when walking in parks or busy areas “always live in the moment.”

Lifetime learning was unanimously endorsed as a means of improving our memories, I.Q. and quality of life. But we must challenge the brain, the authors insist, by tackling new and demanding studies and hobbies.  We could, for instance, learn a new language or two, take up the French horn, write a book, study the classics, or teach yoga to pit bulls. If we persist in such endeavors, these writers say, our minds will rise to occasion.

The advice given on getting a good night’s sleep was contradictory. One bulletin from Johns Hopkins Medicine said “meditation, prayer or a good book” can help us to relax and fall asleep.  A later bulletin, same source, advised against reading a book in bed. The most interesting suggestion I read on this topic was: “At night, keep the bedroom dark and quiet and use it only for sleep and sex.”

The Johns Hopkins papers never wavered in their support of strong social networks for seniors.  A white paper on memory that I received in 2009 said: “Having a large social network may preserve cognitive function and stave off dementia among elderly women.” A bulletin from the same source that I received in Spring, 2013, went further. “Numerous studies have reported that people who regularly socialize with others have less the mortality rates than people who have isolated lives.”  (So, party on!)

These bulletins and books also contained countless tips on where to find brain management classes, videos on managing your memory and brain games that serve like a GPS for the hippocampus, the main driver of memory.

But frankly I believe if we simply follow the six rules listed above, at our own pace, our memories will serve us well until we step onto that sheer cliff of senectitude.

I plan, meanwhile, to continue my subscriptions to the Johns Hopkins Medicine bulletins, as long as they don’t become too repetitive. As for the authors of these works, I have but four words: Thanks for the memories. –gg-

Northern Spain – Catalonia and the Basque Country

Taking Note of Notable Northern Spain

By Gwen Gibson

To  fully enjoy the riches of Catalonia and the Basque Country of northern Spain the new or inveterate traveler needs stamina, curiosity, a hearty appetite for fine wines and gourmet foods and a  knowing, multi-lingual guide with friends in high places.

I realized this during a recent, 10-day trip to this beautiful, autonomous corner of Spain. Initially, four items were on my “must-do” list. One, visit La Sagrada Familia, the magnificent cathedral created by Barcelona’s famously controversial architect Antoni Gaudi. Two, eat pintzos (Basque-style tapas) while strolling the soft sands along San Sebastian’s sea walk. Three, visit the newest Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. Four, eat in Pamplona where Ernest Hemmingway dined and wrote part of “The Sun Also Rises.”

I accomplished this and a great deal more by booking a study tour arranged by the Texas Exes, the 52-year-old travel arm of the University of Texas Alumni Association. Thirty-three others had booked the same tour through the Exes.


Thirty-four Flying Texas Longhorns pose in front of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, one of many stops on their tour of Northern Spain. Photo by Leslie Cedar.

We were a large, diverse group with different backgrounds and political leanings.  We were from Texas, after all.  But we had a sense of camaraderie thanks in large part to the patience and abiding sense of humor shown by Antonio Ruiz, our tour guide, aka “campus director” in Spain.

A native of Spain with a degree in linguistics, Ruiz escorted us to scores of famous landmarks as well as to bars, restaurants and concerts.  When we encountered waiting lines Ruiz  waved us past like a seasoned maître d.

Four other accredited academics talked to us about local lore and culture in the cities we visited.

The history of Catalonia and the Basque Country predates the formation of Spain as a unified country. Indeed, the medieval kingdoms of Navarre and Aragón helped to create Spain.

But neither Catalonia nor the Basque Country has ever been an official nation.  Despite this, they cling to their centuries-old culture, while occasionally threatening to secede.

The Spanish Parliament granted autonomy to Catalonia and the Basque Country on 18 December 1979, but the debates go on even as these areas bask in their glory as some of Europe’s most modern and popular tourist areas.

Our tour started in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia and a bustling port city on the Mediterranean Sea. The second largest city in Spain, after Madrid, Barcelona is home to a famous opera house; a 100,000-seat football stadium; a 60,000-seat Olympic stadium; noted museums like the Picasso, Miró and Maritime, and the popular Las Ramblas boulevard that reaches from the heart of the city to the sea. Busy shops, cafes, markets and street performers keep this stretch alive, day and night.

But nothing here attracts tourists like the works of Antoni Gaudi, the modernisme, or art nouveau, architect who was 100 years ahead of his time. These include his early lampposts; the several houses he designed (and which locals boast inspired Star Wars creator George Lucas); the magnificent Parc Guell in suburban Barcelona, and La Sagrada Familia, or The Sacred Family, the city’s number one tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage site.


1. The exterior of La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s landmark cathedral where architect Antoni Gaudi worked for 41 years. Started in 1832, it is still under construction. Photo by Diana Reeves.

Construction on La Sagrada Familia started in 1832. Gaudi worked on it for 41 years and is buried in the crypt. But the magnificent cathedral is not finished. Six architects are still at work here.  Completion is scheduled for 2026, on the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.  “But don’t bank on that,” one worker laughed.

From Barcelona we travelled by private bus to Zaragoza, San Sebastian, Bilbao and Pamplona. Since billboards are limited on these roads, we could see clearly the green fields, poppies and wildflowers along the way. (Lady Bird Johnson would have loved this.)

We also hiked on city streets, rural routes and mountainsides. Antonio equipped us with head phones, called “whispers,” to keep us informed—and in line.

We needed these in San Sebastian, the proud capital of the Basque Country which extends from the foothills of the Pyrenees into southern France. Site of many landmarks, museums and parks, San Sebastian also beckons tourists with a four-mile oceanfront promenade that wraps around the city’s beaches.  You get a sweeping view of this from atop nearby Mounte Igeldo where—on a clear day–you can also see France.


Street dancing–as seen here–can erupt at any moment on the streets of bustling San Sebastian. Photo by Diane Reeves.

Like Antonio, our lecturer here, David Bumstead, emphasized that San Sebastian “is one of the safest cities in the world.”  He alluded to the ETA, the violent separatist group that operated out of the Basque country of Spain and southern France for years.  ETA translates in English to “Basque independence and security.”

“The ETA is no longer big,” Bumstead stressed. “It went too far, did some terrible things. But they have since become marginalized and have declared a permanent ceasefire.”

Bilbao, another safe city, was transformed from a dark industrial town, known for exporting steel and coal, into a clean and popular tourist site after the Guggenheim Museum opened here in 1997.  Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the distinctive building is constructed of limestone, glass, and over 30,000 thin titanium plates which change color dramatically as the weather changes. From some angles, it looks more like a sculpture than a building.


“Puppy,” a 43-foot floral sculpture of a West Highland terrier sits outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Once controversial, it is now a beloved icon. Photo: Diane Reeves

Bilbao landed the handsome museum by paying millions for the building and the Guggenheim name with taxpayer dollars. The Guggenheim Foundation chooses the art exhibited.

In sharp contrast, the principal attraction in Pamplona is the raucous, week-long Festival of San Fermín which opens with hundreds of bullfighting fans running through city streets to the bull ring, ahead of six frightened bulls. Held each year, from July 6 to July 14, it honors Saint Fermín, the city’s first bishop and patron saint who was beheaded in France in the third century.

“If you have anything bad to say about Hemingway, don’t say it here,” lecturer Guillem Genestar said. “If you have anything bad to say about France, go right ahead.”  Our close-knit group of 34 had a four-course meal fit for a matador at Café Iruña, where photos of Hemingway still line the walls.

To cover all the fascinating sites in this history-steeped part of the world would take a book. But here are some facts and fiction you might not have heard:

*Spain is the highest country in Europe outside of Switzerland. Catalonia and the Basque Country are the highest points in Spain.

*The flags of Catalonia, the Basque Country and Spain are all red and yellow but with different designs—and different devotees. Be careful what you salute.

*Ferdinand Magellan was not the first to circumnavigate the world. He was killed during a battle in the Philippines.  The second in command, Juan Sebastian Elcano, a Basque explorer, took over and completed the voyage. A monument to Sebastian Elcano stands in Gitaria, a seaside community near San Sebastian.

*Catelonians have lost their taste for flamenco, “but it’s popular in Japan,” said flamenco guitarist Juan Manuel Avila of Barcelona.

*The Basque language, still spoken by many, does not derive from any other language.  It originated locally.

*The Basques are “taller, blonder and have larger ear lobes” than other Spaniards, said lecturer David Bumstead.

*All of Catalonia and San Sebastian in the Basque country have banned bull fighting, but this remains Pamplona’s most lucrative attraction.  The hotel room where Hemingway stayed during the bullfighting festival now costs two thousand euros per day. Orson Wells stayed here once and skipped out on his bill for two thousand euros. Proudly framed, this hangs in the hotel lobby.

As I told you, this trip took stamina.  But if I could do in my eighties so can you. It’s worth the effort. Catalonia and the Basque Country, combined, are no larger than New Hampshire, but the welcome you feel here is as big as Texas.


Lady Bird’s Living Legacy

Lady Bird’s Living Legacy

By Gwen Gibson

In 1965, Lady Bird Johnson decided that the nation’s capital needed a facelift. So, in a bold and unprecedented move, the new first lady formed a Committee for a More Beautiful Capital and filled it with wealthy private donors and political VIPs. Through this stellar committee, she saw that thousands of dogwood trees, daffodils and azaleas were planted in straggly parks and neighborhoods throughout Washington, D.C. Highly popular, this program grew into the nationwide beautification effort that Lady Bird championed for the next 42 years of her life. No wonder she is called our environmental first lady.

Today, thanks to her work, once-blighted areas around many cities and highways still come to life in the spring with native plants and brightly colored wildflowers. But the centerpiece of her legacy is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 10 miles southwest of downtown Austin. In this 279-acre Center, some 650 species of plants and trees native to Central Texas are displayed and nurtured, and that’s just part of the picture.  The Center offers hiking trails, woodlands and gardens as well as exhibits, lectures, conferences and family-friendly programs throughout the year. In addition, it operates a nationally-known center of information on the sustainable use and conservation of native plants, wildflowers and landscapes.

“This is the physical expression of Mrs. Johnson’s love of nature—the place where her ideals are expressed to the world,” said Damon Waitt, the Center’s senior director and botanist.

Mrs. Johnson founded the National Wildflower Research Center in 1982 with actress Helen Hayes on 60 acres of undeveloped land east of Austin. By 1995, having outgrown this site, the Center moved to its present location. In 1998 it was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. In 2006, it became an organizational research unit of the University of Texas at Austin, a move Mrs. Johnson had long promoted.

Born Claudia Alta Taylor in 1912 in Karnack, Texas, Mrs. Johnson answered all her life to the “Lady Bird” nickname given her as a small child. Her mother died when she was five and, as her parents’ only daughter, Lady Bird spent many hours alone in the lush natural fields around her rural home town. She often reminisced about the cypress trees lining Caddo Lake and the Spanish moss that hung from them, forming a canopy, and she fought all her life to protect such settings for everyone.

Lady Bird attended high school at nearby Marshall and went to junior college at St. Mary’s Episcopal School for Girls in Dallas. In 1930 she entered the University of Texas at Austin where she earned bachelor’s degrees in history and journalism.  Along the way she metamorphosed from shy country girl to successful business woman and astute political wife with a soft smile and iron will.

In 1934, just ten weeks after graduating from UT, Lady Bird married the tall, handsome Lyndon B. Johnson, then a Congressional aide. She soon became his most influential political adviser. She also successfully ran Austin broadcasting stations from 1943 to 1972.

A mild-mannered trail blazer, Lady Bird made political history in the 1964 presidential campaigns by making a 1,628-mile train trip through eight Southern states on behalf of the Democratic ticket. She faced angry crowds but usually won them over with her soothing smile and firm voice. It was the first time a First Lady had campaigned without the President at her side.

Emboldened by this successful trip, she launched her beautification program just two weeks after LBJ’s1965 inauguration. Her goal, she said, was to put “the whole field of conservation and beautification” on the national agenda.  President Johnson fully supported her efforts to beautify America and he went to bat with Congress for her more controversial highway beautification program, launched later that year.

The latter program was designed to reduce the number of junkyards and billboards along the nation’s highways. This didn’t succeed as well as beautification due to protests by the powerful billboard industry. “But I hope we tempered the spread of them,” she said in later years.

Lady Bird never liked the word “beautification” and struggled to find something better. But the term survived and came to represent what she called ““the whole broad tapestry of environment—clean air, clean water, scenic rivers, new national parks, wilderness areas.”

Plugging her programs, she would argue that cleaner, more beautiful neighborhoods “lessen tensions, create harmony and bring people together.” And she insisted, cannily, that “wildflowers are good for the pocket book and the soul.”

Lady Bird felt that her programs worked hand in hand with President Johnson’s Great Society, especially his war on poverty and crime and his Head Start program.

Clearly, their partnership paid off. During the Johnson administration, 1965 to 1969, “over 300 conservation measures were signed into law, forming the legal basis of the modern environmental movement,” said a statement by the National Park Service.

On July 26, 1968, President Johnson presented Lady Bird with 50 pens he used to sign environmental legislation she had proposed and influenced. Two other presidents recognized her achievements. In 1977, President Gerald Ford presented her with the Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian award. In 1988, she received the Congressional Gold Medal from President Ronald Reagan.

Unlike many other first ladies, Lady Bird continued to champion her causes after leaving the White House. She worked from her office at the LBJ Presidential Library for some 25 years, sponsoring programs and symposiums on civil rights, women’s rights and the environment. She was the honorary, hands-on chairman of the Town Lake Beautification Committee which directed the planting of hundreds of shrubs, trees and plants around the once muddy Colorado River in downtown Austin. This is now Lady Bird Lake. And she served as chairman of the Wildflower Center’s board of directors until her death.

“She was active here to the last,” said Susan Rieff, the Center’s executive director. “Three weeks before she died she took a tour of the gardens with Damon [Waitt]. She couldn’t talk and could barely see. But she knew everything that was going on and where every garden was.”

Lady Bird died in July 2007 at age 94. She is buried next to her husband at the LBJ ranch, 50 miles west of Austin.  In 2008, as Lady Bird wished, the ranch became a historical national park, operated by the National Park Service. Everything here—from the Johnsons’ former living quarters to the Texas White House—is open to the public.

Lady Bird’s environmental legacy lives on here as it does at the Wildflower Center and the LBJ Presidential Library and around the nation, wherever we see a host of golden daffodils.


Sidebar one – Lady Bird Legacy

Sidebar one – Lady Bird Legacy

A Wildly Imaginative Center

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a study in contrasts. The gardens, trails and woods on this 279-acre site form a quiet retreat where visitors can commune with nature.  Even the buildings “sit lightly on the land,” as Lady Bird once observed. But inside these buildings skilled botanists and other professionals run the largest network of information on native plants and landscapes in North America.

Known as the Native Plants Information Network (NPIN), this offers background on some 7,371 native plants by scientific or common name. Available on the Center’s web site, to everyone from scientists to the private gardener, this gets millions of hits annually, as do two other NPIN services.

One, called “Ask Mr. Smarty Plants,” invites visitors to submit questions on line about how to start and maintain native plants, wildflowers, gardens and landscapes. Experts usually provide answers on line within three weeks.

The other, called the Image Gallery, provides the public access to images of over 17,000 native plants.

The grounds are also full of information.  Every shrub, plant, tree or butterfly bush has a legend posted nearby. If you have a smartphone more information is just a click away.

The Center, located 10 miles southwest of downtown Austin, is growing in popularity, said Saralee Tiede, the director of communications, ”because of its various activities for families.”

A prime example is the new arboretum where Texas’ magnificent native trees are exhibited and studied. Red oaks and cedar elms, some more than 100 years old, and even a clone of Austin’s famed Treaty Oak stand their ground on the trails and meadows of this 16-acre site. Damon Waitt, the Center’s senior officer and chief botanist, calls the Arboretum “our cure for nature deficit disorder.”

Another new attraction, to open in 2014, will be known as the Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin Family Garden in honor of Luci and her husband who donated $1 million to the project’s estimated $5 million cost. The five-acre Family Garden will be a giant playground with dozens of attractions that promote hands-on play and education.

“Mrs. Johnson would be pleased and excited about everything that’s happening here,” said Susan Rieff, the Center’s executive director. “This was her own backyard and she wanted everyone to come here and enjoy it.”

The Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, visit:

Gwen Gibson

Note: The Wildflower Center is especially busy in the spring and summer with programs recognizing Lady Bird’s legacy. The particularly popular Spring Plant Sale and Gardening Festival will be held this year on Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14.  Participants can choose from some 300 species of plants bred to survive the Central Texas climate. They can also buy native trees, including hard-to-find varieties, in 4” pots.



Sidebar two – Lady Bird Legacy

Sidebar two – Lady Bird Legacy

Seeing LBJ the High Tech Way

A $10 million renovation has given the LBJ Presidential Library a new, 21st century look with three floors of high-tech, interactive exhibits that bring alive as never before the political and personal lives of LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson.

On entering the remodeled museum visitors can download an app or chose from five hand-held guides. One is a multi-media tour, including reflections from Lady Bird.

Inside the museum state-of-the-art exhibits invite you to pick up hand-held telephones and listen to selected clips from some 643 hours of President Johnson’s private telephone conversations, something no other presidential library offers.

Other exhibits invite you to take part in polls and surveys, hear history lessons, learn step by step how laws are passed and engage in ongoing conversations with the library and with social media sites. In the Great Hall, where the library’s archives are seen in all their bright red covers, you can use a touch screen to access archive materials on any given subject.

The renovated library puts more emphasis than before on LBJ’s Great Society and anti-poverty programs.  “One of our major goals is to reach new generations,” said Anne Wheeler, director of communications. “So many people under the age of 30 don’t understand how laws passed during the Johnson administration-–like voting rights, Medicare, Medicaid, student grants and so much more—still impact them today. We hope to tell the story through this new technology so they can make informed decisions.”

LBJ’s role in the controversial Vietnam Was is still covered thoroughly and impartially. In one interactive exhibit visitors can read memos to LBJ from top advisers and hear his telephone conversations about the long, unpopular war with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and with Lady Bird.

The remodeled library was opened to the public on Dec. 22, 2012, the centennial of Lady Bird Johnson’s birth. The timing recognized Lady Bird’s vital role in the Johnson presidency and in the growth of his library.


Another on-going annual tribute—the $25,000 Lady Bird Johnson Environmental Award– recognizes the former first lady’s commitment to conservation and the environment.  Established in 1992 by the LBJ Foundation Board of Trustees, the award is also sponsored by the LBJ Library, the Wildflower Center and the LBJ School of Public Affairs. It recognizes efforts of individuals, corporations and non-profit organizations to improve, preserve and restore the natural world in a manner “that embraces Mrs. Johnson’s style, energy and commitment to her work.”

The $25,000 will go this year to an individual at ceremonies in Washington, D.C. in April, 2014. Nominations opened Feb. 19 and will be accepted until May 31, 2013. They should be made online to:

The LBJ library is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Christmas.

Gwen Gibson

Sidebar three – Lady Bird Legacy

 Sidebar three – Lady Bird Legacy 

            Lady Bird in Her Words

You won’t find any titillating gossip in Michael L. Gillette’s new oral history of Lady Bird Johnson. The genteel former first lady had no instinct for this. But you will find some new and intriguing insights into Lady Bird’s oft-told life story.

She reports with rare candor, for instance, on the good times and zany friends and many beaus she had while attending the University of Texas at Austin.

“I really did have quite a range of friends,” she admits. “Every spring there would be some new man that I would see a lot of and be terribly interested in, but they never really amounted to much.”

She is equally frank about her whirlwind courtship with Lyndon Baines Johnson, months after her graduation from UT. As a suitor, she says, LBJ “came on strong.  And he was very direct and demanding. I didn’t know quite what to make of him.”

Gillette, executive director of Humanities Texas, was in charge of the oral history program at the LBJ Presidential Library from 1976 to 1991. His book, published in November, 2012, is a compilation of the 47 recorded interviews conducted with Lady Bird from 1977 to 1996 by both Gillette and Harry Middleton, former director of the LBJ Presidential Library.

Many events covered in Lady Bird’s voluminous 1970 book, “A White House Diary,” are revived here.  But Lady Bird adds new insights, under Gillette’s questioning, especially when delving into LBJ’s controversial political decisions.

One occurred in 1956 when John F. Kennedy asked LBJ, then the Senate majority leader, to be his vice presidential candidate.  LBJ didn’t want to accept and Lady Bird opposed the idea at first. “I loved the Senate just as he did. I did not know how good a number-two man he would be…”

House speaker Sam Rayburn persuaded LBJ to accept Kennedy’s offer—which Robert Kennedy opposed from the get-go.  When Gillette asks Lady Bird if LBJ considered asking Robert Kennedy to be his vice presidential candidate in 1964, she replies coolly: “No. He would have wanted a running mate he had warmth for.”

While she doesn’t gossip, Lady Bird offers rich stories about the Washington political and social scenes and former First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy and Pat Nixon.

In one big surprise, Gillette discounted the oft-repeated claim that Lady Bird’s nickname was coined by her black nurse. “Mrs. Johnson once told me that the nickname had actually come from her two black childhood playmates, who themselves were nicknamed ‘Stuff’ and ‘Doddlebug,’” Gillette writes. “It was later deemed more respectable to assign credit to the nurse and avoid the impression of interracial socialization.”          

At the heart of this enduring oral history, however, is the transformation of a shy southern girl into a powerful political wife and an environmental champion in her own right.

Gwen Gibson