Mason Forum Remembers LBJ

Posted: February 20, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Beau Cribbs

A diverse population of the Mason community gathered on Monday for the inaugural installment of the Mason Forum in honor of President’s Day.

The brainchild of Mason’s scholar-in-residence, Richard Norton Smith, the forum’s first subject was titled “Remembering LBJ” and revisited the sudden and often misunderstood presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. C-SPAN was on hand to record the event.

Johnson’s White House Social Secretary Bess Abell; top advisor to LBJ, Jack Valenti; and even the president’s eldest daughter, Lynda Johnson Robb, spoke at the forum. Over the nearly 90-minute discussion, the three panelists shed light on the historical significance of the 36th president’s Great Society 40 years after its inception; the Vietnam War in comparison to contemporary foreign policy decisions; and exactly what happened to many of the key players on Nov. 22, 1963.

Jack Valenti and Lynda Robb
Jack Valenti and Lynda Johnson Robb were panelists at “Remembering LBJ” on Monday.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

The former first lady of Virginia and senator’s wife, Robb frequently referred to the president and Lady Bird Johnson “daddy” and “mother,” giving an intimate perspective on larger-than-life personalities in history.

Valenti, only the second aide in history to actually live in the White House during some of his time as a presidential assistant, frequently was quick to make a wisecrack in his storytelling about the Johnson presidency. He also spoke about what he called the “nightmare” of the Kennedy assassination.

The former Johnson advisor recounted that afternoon with an insider’s perspective rarely heard from mainstream historical accounts. Valenti, who rode six cars behind President Kennedy in the Dallas motorcade, told the story of his private meeting in Vice President Johnson’s holding room in Dallas’ Parkland Hospital, and later being accidentally pulled into the frame of the famous photograph of the swearing-in ceremony on Air Force One.

Anecdotes were recalled throughout the discussion; Abell spoke of Johnson’s ability to contact literally anyone he could possibly want to talk with over the telephone, an ability that added to his reputation of being perceived as somewhat of a political bully – yet another example of putting a human face on LBJ.

The next session in the Mason Forum Series will feature journalist and author Bob Woodward at the Arlington Campus on March 7 at 5 p.m.

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