LBJ’s oldest surviving aide remembers
Monday, February 14, 2011
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The family of the oldest living aide of former President Lyndon B. Johnson is sharing 31 pages of personal reminiscences of her years at the right hand of one of the world’s most powerful men.
Mildred Stegall penned her memories of working as an aide to Lyndon B. Johnson — senator, Senate majority leader, vice president and president — 14 years ago for her family. Now 102, she lives in a Fort Worth nursing home to be near family members, who shared her memoirs with the Austin American-Statesman.
Stegall’s husband, Glynn Stegall, joined LBJ’s congressional staff in 1942. Mildred, however, resisted LBJ’s entreaties to join his staff until the mid-1950s.
She remembers her beginnings on his staff as rocky, unused to the demands and callousness for which Johnson was already notorious. “I had murder in my heart,” she wrote.
But she stayed on for 35 years, serving Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson.
“I do not want to leave the impression that LBJ was somewhat of a saint — far from it,” she wrote. “He had his hang-ups, just like everybody else. He was only human and would get upset when things did not go his way.
“Sometimes he would just yell to show his displeasure; other times he would take his anger out on one of the most loyal employees when he knew full well that his anger had nothing to do with anything they had done. I cannot recall LBJ ever saying ’I am sorry. I know it was not your fault.’ Instead, he would try to make amends in other ways.”
She recalls one example of a secretary at whom Johnson had lashed out, only to send her and a couple of other staffers on paid shopping trips to New York.
Then there was the time Johnson took the Stegalls with him on a 1960 trip to Hawaii for a governor’s conference — but as guests, not as staff.
After Johnson’s severe heart attack in July 1955, he was ordered to rest at his Hill Country ranch. Stegall recalled her phone ringing at 7 a.m. with orders to round up provisions to deliver to Johnson’s airplane within the hour. Hastily dressed and without makeup, she executed and delivered.
“The last thing I wanted was to see anyone I knew,” she wrote. “My luck ran out as he spotted me from his vantage point (at the top of the stair to the plane) and motioned for me to come to him. Reluctantly, I made my way through the crowd and climbed the steps to where he was standing. He gave me a big hug and kiss.”
Stegall’s husband, Glynn, died of a heart attack in August 1963. A few weeks later, then-Vice President Johnson instructed the new widow to pack to accompany the Johnsons on an official trip to Scandinavia.
It was she whom LBJ entrusted with preserving the secret recordings of his White House meetings and telephone calls. “I doubt if recording the meetings was very secret as the (White House technical) men would bring the tapes down the hall to my office and made no attempt to conceal them,” she wrote.
“As the war in Vietnam escalated, more meetings were held, and more tapes, so it was absolutely impossible for me to get them transcribed as quickly as the president wanted the transcripts back.”
Stegall lived in Austin until moving to the Fort Worth nursing home 14 months ago.
“Mildred never let my father and his legacy down,” Luci Baines Johnson, the president’s youngest daughter, told the American-Statesman.
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com