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First lady remembered at service amid wildflowers: ’We are here to let Lady Bird go’

    AUSTIN, Texas — Lady Bird Johnson made a final trip Friday to her beloved wildflower center, where friends and family followed the former first lady’s casket into a gallery for a private memorial service.
    About 180 people gathered at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, where her coffin, draped in white cloth with blue embroidery, rested in front of a large portrait of Johnson in a field of flowers. Nearby, two vases held lavender-hued bluebells, her favorite flower.
    ‘‘We are here to let Lady Bird go and to celebrate her glad release,’’ said the Rev. Stephen Kinney, former rector at Johnson’s home church, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg. ‘‘This is our time to say goodbye.’’
    The service for the 94-year-old widow of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson ended with a song written for her.
    Daughter Lynda Johnson Robb watched from the front row, swaying to the music and smiling. She had walked in with her sister, Luci Baines Johnson, as service members representing every branch of the U.S. military carried their mother’s casket.
    Johnson, who died Wednesday, will be buried next to her husband at the couple’s Central Texas ranch at her request. She also wanted her casket to follow the same path his did 34 years ago to the LBJ Library and Museum.
    Early Friday afternoon, the casket arrived at the museum while bagpipes played ‘‘Amazing Grace.’’
    With a crowd of about 250 looking on, her daughters and other family members followed the casket into the library where Johnson will lie in repose until Saturday morning.
    Mary Vidani, 57, was among those waiting at the library.
    ‘‘She was up there with the Beatles and Eleanor Roosevelt,’’ Vidani said of Johnson’s place in her life.
    ‘‘I always wanted to meet her, and this is as close as I can get,’’ Vidani said. ‘‘I cried for her. She died on my birthday.’’
    Pete Pollard, 68, a Vietnam veteran from Austin, remembered shaking Johnson’s hand at a White House Christmas event.
    ‘‘It’s something I will never forget,’’ he said. ‘‘She even hugged my sister. She was a real nice lady.’’
    The service and viewing were to be followed by other ceremonies throughout the weekend. An invitation-only funeral Saturday will be televised, and Johnson is to be buried Sunday at the ranch near Stonewall.
    ———
    Associated Press Writer Liz Austin Peterson contributed to this report.

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