AUSTIN — Lady Bird Johnson will return one last time to the exact spot where she bid a tearful farewell to her husband more than three decades ago, giving the public a final chance to say goodbye before she is buried alongside the former president on their beloved Hill Country ranch.
The former first lady, who died Wednesday at the age of 94, will lie in repose for 24 hours at the LBJ Library and Museum in Austin — just as President Lyndon Baines Johnson did in 1973.
Johnson, hailed for her environmental activism and soothing counsel to an embattled president, died at her Austin home surrounded by friends and family, including her two daughters, Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson.
“She died very peacefully,’’ said the Rev. Bob Scott, a Catholic priest who sang and prayed with the family when Lady Bird drew her last breath at 4:18 p.m. “It was very peaceful and in the arms, really of her two children.’’
The public is invited to view the former first lady’s coffin between about 1 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday. Officials are also expecting well-wishers to line up on Congress Avenue in Austin on Sunday to see her funeral cortege as it leaves the state capitol en route to the family cemetary in Stonewall.
People were already streaming into various Johnson family haunts to pay their respects on Thursday, signing condoleance books at the wildflower center she founded in Austin and reminiscing outside the president’s boyhood home in Johnson City.
Now part of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, the boyhood home and museum saw the pace of visitors pick up to about twice its normal flow, officials said. A portrait of the first lady sitting in a field of wildflowers greeted people as they entered the park’s visitors center.
In Johnson City, Judy Yentzen, who got to know Mrs. Johnson as a fellow member of the town garden club, said the first lady never got too big for her britches.
“She had a way of making the most common person feel special,’’ Yentzen recalled. “She never acted superior in any way. She was always comfortable with you and that made you comfortable with her.’’
Johnson lost her ability to speak after a stroke in 2002 but she never quit promoting natural beauty and the preservation of it. She only made a few requests regarding her funeral ceremonies, but one of them was that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center be part of it.
Johnson, a driving force in highway and public space beautification efforts for decades, founded the center in 1982. Recent heavy rains have produced an unusually colorful and lush display of flowers, prompting family spokeswoman Elizabeth Christian to quip that “Mrs. Johnson’s timing was impeccable as usual.’’
After the private family ceremony at the center on Friday morning, the former first lady will be taken by military body bearers to the 4th floor of the LBJ library in Austin, where she’ll lie in repose. Her body, in a closed casket, will lie precisely where Lyndon Baines Johnson was brought on January 23, 1973, after he died of a heart attack.
After an invitation-only funeral on Saturday, to be televised, Mrs. Johnson will be taken in a funeral cortege to the burial site. The cortege will leave the state capitol at about 9 a.m., heading south on Congress Ave. toward Town Lake, whose beautification she spearheaded.
The cortege will pass through Johnson City before heading to the LBJ ranch for a private ceremony at the family cemetary.