Her family came into the national spotlight under difficult circumstances, but the Johnsons have enchanted Americans ever since. Luci Baines Johnson, second daughter of the iconic Lyndon Baines Johnson, has made Central Texas her home for most of her life. Get to know more about one of Texas’ favorite first daughters.
AF: Tell us about your family.
LJ: My husband Ian and I have five children that we adore. My son Lyndon and his wife Nicole live in San Antonio and have two children; my daughter Rebekah lives in Toronto with her husband Jeremy and their three children; my daughter Claudia lives in Florida with her husband and their three children; Ian’s son Stuart lives in the Cayman Islands with his wife Erin and their two children Austin and Claire. Stuart has an additional child who lives in Houston. When we all get together we are a family of 25 in just the immediate family, and the grandchildren range from two to 18 years of age. We have one going off to preschool and one going off to college and the whole delightful spectrum in between.
We are a deliciously blended family: Claudia is married to a naturalized American who came from Columbia, Rebekah is married to a Canadian, Claudia has converted to Judaism and my husband is British. When members of your immediate family are so diverse, it allows you to see things differently.
AF: What are your favorite things to do in Austin with your grandchildren?
LJ: Overall, it depends on the child or grandchild, the time of year and what will make their heart sing. It varies from participating in community service, going to our ranch outside of Austin, going to Lady Bird Lake, to the LBJ Library, etc.
Personal family commitments mean the world to me. I also like to go with the younger ones to make pottery or go watch games or performances. It means the world to see generations of my family taking up the joy of community service. It’s never a sense of burden. They always love to participate. To see the young people take up the mantle means a lot.
AF: What do you think is the biggest change Austin has seen over the years?
LJ: Austin has gone from a small college town to one of the United States’ most sought-after cities to live in. It’s become a mecca for young people and is much more diverse then it once was. Back in the day, you could go to the airport and always see someone you knew. Now when you go, you might not see anyone you know. The biggest change in Austin is the diversity of interest, activities, languages, ethnicities, businesses and festivals. It’s a happening place. The fact that young people want to stay here instead of leave shows how special Austin truly is.
AF: What has kept you living in Austin instead of other places in the U.S.?
LJ: My husband and I had highly developed personal and professional lives when we married. We came to the conclusion that it would be better to live somewhere neutral. Not his or mine – just neutral. We moved to Toronto for eight years and we really treasured those years.
During the 80s and early 90s when the recession hit, it had such a painful impact on many, many people in the Southwest. We were not exempt from that. We worked seven days a week and 18 hours a day most of the time. We were very fortunate to have a successful business career here. There’s a special love you feel for a place when you have gone through difficult times and you come out on the other side of them. I’ve always loved Austin for all of my life. For Ian, he made extraordinary friends and has done exemplary work in terms of civic activities.
For me, Austin was always home. We are fortunate to be successful in Austin, to work on the LBJ Library, Safe Place, Family Garden, Children’s Hospital – a litany of community organizations with very diverse civic activities. There is a great orchestra of good going on in Austin and I’m pleased to be a member of the supporting cast.
AF: In what ways are you involved with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center?
LJ: I sit on the advisory board and Ian and I just gave the lead gift for the Family Garden. What we believe the Family Garden means to the Wildflower Center and Austin is transformation. Every time a children’s garden has been added to a botanical garden throughout the country, memberships explode.
The Wildflower Center was my mother’s dream. For us to be able to give the lead gift is a chance for us to make my mother’s dream come true. The Wildflower Center is on the cutting edge of sustainability and to the health of the environment. It also makes a meaningful contribution to the generations not born, so they can eventually discover the wonder and importance of nature.
Mother’s love for the natural world really came out of her being born in a rural community and having her mother die when she five years old. She spent a lot of her primitive years out in woods of east Texas. Plants, shrubs and trees became her instructor and friends. Today our society is much more urban due to children not being outside discovering this world through nature. Nature deficit disorder is a reality. It’s good for us to get outside and learn about the world around us in a very hands-on and tactile way.
AF: What was the inspiration for the new Luci and Ian Family Garden?
LJ: The inspiration was simply that the Wildflower Center was the love of my mother’s life. The inspiration for us is that having a Family Garden at the Wildflower Center would enhance memberships of the Wildflower Center in a very meaningful way. And by doing so, could bring in a lot of new friends and supporters that demonstrate the importance of the Wildflower Center and its commitment to a sustainable environment. A chance to say thanks to Austin and thank you to mama and invest in tomorrow.
AF: Much of your work honors the legacies of both of your parents; what do you hope your children and grandchildren will do to continue efforts you’ve made in Central Texas?
LJ: I don’t want to dictate any of my children or grandchildren and what commitments they need to have to fulfill their lives. I feel very strongly about that. I want all of my children and grandchildren to recognize what their great grandmother and grandfather found to be true, and that is the joy of living is the joy of giving.
Working with someone else for a cause that’s greater than us is a treasure beyond measure. I hope they find their own way to make their hearts sing and give back to their community in a way that gives them self worth and in a way that widens their worlds. Maybe leaving this world a better place than when they found it – even if in a small way.
My daughter Nicole has sat on the boards at schools and is a former teacher. Every time I turn around, I see her involved in some other civic activity and that makes my heart sing. I can replicate that with other children of mine in the different places that they live. They have embraced the commitment to give back in a wide variety of ways. Each has offered really significant leadership.
AF: Do you feel young people today are more or less civic/community-minded than when you were a child?
LJ: Every one of my children’s schools had a component of volunteerism. I just applaud that. Public service, volunteerism and civic responsibility are being taught with the same sort of respect and reverence as academic subjects, and I think that is everyone’s hope for tomorrow.
In a book called “Bowling Alone,” it spoke a lot about people becoming more isolated because of technology and that teens don’t have a sense of community as they once had. I think there is a lot of truth to that in this country. There has been a big effort by my children’s generation to recognize this problem and to do something to change it. It gives me a great hope for tomorrow.
AF: Describe your perfect day.
LJ: My perfect day is a day of discovery where I’ve learned something that I didn’t know the day before; when I have had a chance to be with friends and family and the people I love and have had the good sense to let them know. A day where I’ve met adversity and decided how I can learn from it instead of be defeated by it. To have the good sense to know that each day is a gift and a privilege and not a right. To be thankful for blessings and not focus on the trials and tribulations that weigh us down. My perfect day is found in laughing, learning and loving. It could be rainy, snowy or bright blue sky, but if there’s laughter, if there’s learning and if there’s love – it’s blue sky beautiful to me.
AF: Is there anything you’d like to share with Austin Family readers?
LJ: Austin has been a gift to my life in so many ways. Trying to highlight what’s best about this place is a daunting task. Ian and I are very blessed to have so many best friends through our church, through civic commitments, through our work and through our family. We are deeply blessed to live in such an amazing place. All of these rich experiences Ian and I have had in Austin we wouldn’t trade for the world.