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Lyndon B. Johnson

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Johnson praises his wife, Lady Bird, his caretaker as he recovers from a major heart attack:

“ . . . Ruthʼs story was great although no more than she deserves

having written about her in all the papers across the Nation”

Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1908–1973.  36th President of the United States, 1963–1969.  Typed Letter Signed, Lyndon, one page, 6” x 7”, on stationery of the United States Senate, Office of the Democratic Leader, Washington, D.C. [likely the LBJ Ranch, Stonewall, Texas], September 1, 1955.

Recovering from a heart attack, Johnson praises his wife, Lady Bird, while responding to a friend in Texas who had sent him a newspaper article about her.  He writes, in part: I am not answering many letters, but since Bird is my nurse, I thought I would be her secretary and thank you for that nice note you wrote enclosing Ruth Schummʼs wonderful article.  Bird is so modest she wonʼt comment much, but I thought Ruthʼs story was great although no more than she deserves having written about her in all the papers across the Nation.

Johnson smoked some 60 cigarettes a day—an average of one every 15 minutes in a 15-hour day—when he suffered a massive, near-fatal heart attack while visiting in Virginia on July 2, 1955, just under two months before he turned 47.  He described the heart attack as “the worst a man can have and still live.”  He was rushed to Bethesda Naval Hospital, a trip that took an hour.  While en route, Johnson told a friend who accompanied him in the ambulance where to find his will.  He emphasized to him, too:  “I want Lady Bird to have everything I have. . . . Sheʼs been a wonderful, wonderful wife, and sheʼs done so much for me.  She just deserves everything that I have.”  At the hospital, he smoked one last cigarette and, Lady Bird said, turned “gray as pavement, motionless as stone, and  cold to touch.”  He had told Lady Bird to “stay here.  Iʼd rather fight this with you beside me.”

Six months before, Johnson had been elected majority leader of the United States Senate, the youngest in its history.  Following the heart attack, he was hospitalized four weeks and was largely homebound and bedfast for four months.  Lady Bird took care of him ran his Senate office in his absence.  Johnson, who seemed always to work, was a terrible patient.  He became deeply depressed, with see-saw mood swings and nightmares, as first he saw his chances for the 1956 Democratic presidential nomination vanish and then faced possible permanent disability.  Lady Bird read him the thousands of get well letters that he received and put the best ones in scrapbooks that he could keep near.  His doctor, sensing that the workaholic Johnson would recuperate better by staying busy, allowed him to turn his hospital room into a branch office, complete with desks, typewriters, and aides.  Johnson ordered his staff to respond to every letter.

Johnson was well enough to return to Texas to celebrate his birthday on August 27.  He spent the rest of his recuperation at the LBJ Ranch, where Lady Bird continued to care for him.

The article that Johnson mentions here appeared in The Dallas Morning News on August 25, 1955.  The article praised Lady Birdʼs “devotion and intelligence and diligence.”  She measured Johnsonʼs calories and held him to a high-protein diet of but 1,500 calories per day.  Lady Bird told the newspaper that she had “never seen anyone go after something the way Lyndon has this new way of living.”

Ruth Schumm (19221988), who wrote the article, and whom Johnson mentions, was a reporter in the newspaperʼs Washington bureau from 1947 to 1959, when she became Johnsonʼs assistant press secretary.  She worked for Johnson until February 1963.

William H. Kittrell (1894–1966), to whom Johnson wrote this letter, was long active in Democratic party politics.  He served as secretary of the Texas delegation to the 1932 Democratic convention that nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt and later managed Rooseveltʼs reelection campaign in the Dallas area in 1940.  Roosevelt appointed him to the North African Economic Board, which managed Allied economic intervention in French North Africa and was responsible for distribution of Lend-Lease supplies.  Kittrell supported Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson against Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, and under President John F. Kennedy he served as a consultant to the Office of Emergency Planning.

Johnson has signed this letter in blue ballpoint pen.  The letter has a couple of small chips at the bottom edge at the lower right corner, and old pencil markings on the back have been erased.  Overall it is in fine to very fine condition.


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