Former presidents gather to bid farewell to Lady Bird Johnson - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Former presidents gather to bid farewell to Lady Bird Johnson

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Thousands of visitors streamed past the casket of Lady Bird Johnson on Saturday as former presidents and first ladies headed to Texas for her funeral service.  

About 2,000 guests are expected at the service at Riverbend Centre, including first lady Laura Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush; former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton; President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn Carter; and former first lady Nancy Reagan. Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President Kennedy, also was expected to attend.

Three days of ceremonies began Friday with private family prayer services, followed by a huge public outpouring. The body of the wife of former President Lyndon B. Johnson lay in repose at the LBJ Library and Museum, which was open to the public overnight.

About 10,500 people had visited the library to pay their respects, according to a family spokeswoman.

Lady Bird Johnson died Wednesday at her Austin home of natural causes.

"My mother had 94 delicious years. She lived them to the fullest," daughter Luci Baines Johnson said Friday. Despite her mother's medical problems, she said, Lady Bird Johnson recently toured a university art museum and delighted in wildflowers in the nearby Hill Country. 

"As long as she drew breath, she was wanting to discover and make an impact on beauty," her daughter said.

Ceremonies for Johnson began with a religious service for the family at her beloved Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which Johnson founded in 1982 to further the preservation of wildflowers and native plants.

Her casket was later placed in the exact location in the Johnson library where her husband's casket rested after his death in 1973.

About 600 admirers were waiting in the Texas heat when the library's doors opened Friday afternoon.

The first person to file past the casket wiped a tear from her eye as she left the building.

"I'm very honored. What a neat lady," said Mary Vidani, 57, who lives near Austin. "I had to be here. I always wanted to meet her and shake her hand and this is as close as I could get."

Saturday's funeral service was invitation-only, but was scheduled to be televised. The former first lady will be buried Sunday next to her husband at the LBJ Ranch.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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