By Chuck Pishko
Claudia Alta Johnson, first lady of the land and wife of President Lyndon Johnson, passed on Wednesday, July 11.
President Johnson had made conservation one of his goals in his Great Society speech in the spring of 1964. He appointed a task force on natural beauty and named Laurance Rockefeller as a member. At the same time Lady Bird made beautification her special area of concern as first lady.
Laurance supported her ideas and helped launch her campaign. He even invited her to become a trustee of Jackson Hole Preserve Inc. In her book, “A White House Diary” (New York, 1970), Lady Bird reported that she became Laurance’s fast friend. She stayed at his home in Woodstock, Vermont, his JY Ranch in the Grand Tetons, the family estate at Pocantico Hills in New York, and our own Caneel Bay Resort.
In 1964, she spoke at graduation for the then College of the Virgin Islands. She also toured the V.I. National Park, guided by one of the new rangers, Nobel Samuel, who taught her how to snorkel. Noble also took her down the Reef Bay Trail, where she was appalled at the lack of restroom facilities, which was soon corrected.
Lady Bird became one of Laurance’s greatest boosters and referred to him as “America’s leading citizen conservationist.” The Highway Beautification Projects and Wildflower Restoration she accomplished are still enjoyed today.