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Remarks at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Inauguration

April 06, 1990

Welcome. Well, what a wonderful reunion. And thanks, first, to the family, especially our esteemed friend, Lady Bird Johnson; as well as her daughters, Lynda and Luci; and the grandkids: Lynn, Nicole, Rebekah, Claudia, Catherine, and missing in action, Lucinda, who is finishing her thesis at Princeton University and, thus, cannot be with us on this special occasion -- sends her mother and dad, Senator and Mrs. Robb. And, of course, our distinguished Senator, a member of the family, Chuck Robb. We're delighted he's here. [Senator] Lloyd Bentsen, I'm told, was to be here, but maybe he is not. And I don't see [Senator] Pat Moynihan, but both of them are missing in action and both wanted to be here to pay their respects.

I'm speaking for the Vice President and Mrs. Quayle and Barbara Bush when I say how very pleased we are to have all of you here. I want to single out, and I hope they're here, our fellow Texans over here: the former Speaker, Jim Wright, and Representatives Jake Pickle and Kika de la Garza, and so many other distinguished friends of President Johnson, and so many members of his Cabinet. I know I'm going in trouble with this one, because we haven't got it totally complete. But I'll just stop and say welcome to the former members of the Johnson Cabinet because there are so many. And I think it is fitting that all of you are here. I'll be in trouble if I keep singling out names. But a couple of more "thank yous" like this -- keep going on this and Valenti will think he's back at the Academy Awards. [Laughter] And none of us can afford that.

Jack Valenti [Special Consultant to President Johnson], our dear friend -- he probably described Lyndon Baines Johnson about as well as anybody ever has. Jack's book was entitled "A Very Human President," and that he surely was. "An awesome engine of a man," Jack called him, "terrorizing, tender, inexhaustibly energetic . . . loving of land, grass, and water. Engulfing, patient, impatient, caring, insightful, devoted to wife, family and friends . . . Compassionate. Courageous. And full of humor."

That about says it all, but I'll go on a little bit. LBJ's humor was matched perhaps only by his bigness of heart. At the Inaugural Ball at the Statler-Hilton, he looked at Hubert Humphrey -- whose sister is with us today, I'm pleased to say -- at that point, Hubert had been Vice President -- there she is -- had been Vice President for less than 12 hours. "There he is," LBJ exclaimed, "the greatest Vice President I've ever known." [Laughter]

He was a towering and passionate figure, endlessly in motion. And those in the press who think the White House is hectic today ought trade some notes with Bill Moyers. Bill was LBJ's Press Secretary for a time, and told how one day the President called him in his office and said, "Bill, I'm going to Honolulu." Bill said, "Fine, Mr. President. I'll come over and talk to you about it. Where are you?" LBJ replied, "Over Los Angeles." [Laughter]

Lyndon Johnson loved this country, loved her land, and loved her people. And one of my own personal heroes, Dwight Eisenhower, served as President when LBJ was majority leader in the Senate. And Ike often said that he knew that whenever the great issues of national security were concerned, Lyndon Johnson would always be a partisan of principle, not a partisan of party.

Historians will continue to argue about his legacy, as they do about the legacy of every single President. And some say the greatest thing he ever did was heal the Nation after a tragic loss. Others say it was the 1964 Civil Rights Act, or the Voting Rights Act in '65. But whatever, the greatest thing LBJ ever did -- Sam Rayburn [former Speaker of the House] said there was no doubt about the best thing he ever did, and that was marrying Lady Bird Johnson.

And I think those who know Lyndon better than I would say that she was his anchor and his strength. And she never failed him. And she was always there. And as she has once again today, Lady Bird brought to the White House dignity and warmth and grace. And she was never on stage, never acting out some part, always the same genuine lady no matter what the setting. Her gift of language is a combination of both elegance and simplicity, a vivid imagery that charms our country to this very day.

Mrs. Johnson, you, too, have left this nation a very important legacy. Barbara reminds me of that every single day. And those who travel by car along the banks of the Potomac, or who walk or bicycle along its paths, are each day struck by the wonder of your gift. Friends back home tell me that the wildflowers planted along Texas highways at your direction are the prettiest ever this year. The bluebonnets and the Indian paintbrush line Interstate 10 from San Antonio to Houston. And I remember a few years back when Barbara and I were headed from Houston to College Station for a commencement up at A&M. And we skipped the chopper ride and drove so we could see your beautiful wildflowers in bloom. And today some have renewed the debate about when and where the first Earth Day was conceived, about when the environmental movement was first launched in America. But I have a feeling that it began just about the time a nation of new trees and flowers started appearing at the business end of a shovel held by Lady Bird Johnson.

The Johnsons were close to both the land and the people, and LBJ often spoke about the strength that comes from the power for good that lies out there in the fertile lands and great cities in America, about America's deep confidence in itself -- its conviction that we don't have any problem that we are not big enough to solve ourselves, and always remembering that all our successes can always be improved. He tried with all his heart and to be the best President that this country ever had for the people who are pressed against the wall, whose cries are often not heard. But he heard. Lyndon Johnson heard. And he often told of spotting a tombstone he admired, somewhere out in west Texas, I believe it was. It carried just four simple words: "He done his damnedest." [Laughter]

Well, some say that that fabled tombstone never existed. But it does now. From the Potomac to the Pedernales, no one ever earned that epitaph more than Lyndon Baines Johnson. "He done his damnedest."

So, thank you all for coming. Thank you all for coming. And to the members of my own administration -- and I think Marlin [Marlin Fitzwater, Press Secretary to the President] is here and one or two others -- take heart: just 24 years from now, you too might be invited back to your own reunion. [Laughter] Perhaps even hosted by President Robb. [Laughter] President Jennifer Robb.

Note: The President spoke at 3:21 p.m. on the State Floor at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Lynda Robb, wife of Senator Charles S. Robb and daughter of President Johnson.

George Bush, Remarks at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Inauguration Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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