Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of former President Lyndon Johnson who led the charge to create a hike and bike trail around a stretch of the Colorado River in Austin, took her inspiration from a stretch of the Thames Path in London, according to the wife of former Mayor Roy Butler.
Anne Butler says she had traveled with her husband to London for an international conference of mayors in 1971. Lady Bird Johnson was staying at the same hotel, the historic Savoy Hotel London, which overlooks the River Thames. The two wives had planned to meet up while in London.
“She went out onto her balcony and said, ‘Anne, come here a minute,” Ms. Butler told KUT News.
“Look across over there,” Lady Bird said.
Ms. Butler said she looked across the River Thames and saw “a beautiful sight of greenery, beautiful shrubs, and a lovely trail.”
“It’s beautiful Lady. It’s just gorgeous,” Ms. Butler said.
“Do you think we could do that in Austin?” Ms. Johnson asked.
“Yes, and let me go get the man who can help you,” Ms. Butler replied. She went to get her husband, Mayor Roy Butler.
“You must understand that at the time,” Ms. Butler told KUT News, “you could hardly see the [Colorado] river. There were trees and wild grasses and everything.”
Roy and Anne Butler returned home and got to work forming a committee. Austin residents Les Gage and Hallie Burns were appointed co-chairs. Lady Bird Johnson was honorary chairman.
Butler said their first fundraiser for the trail was going to be at the LBJ Ranch.
“I flew up [to the ranch] to have a conference with the Secret Service. The president was not well at the time,” Butler said. When she arrived, President Johnson was ill in bed, but he wanted to speak with her.
“He said to me, ‘Now Anne, I’m not well, but if something happens to me, I want you and Bird to go ahead with this party. Do you understand me?”
“I said, ‘Yes sir, yes sir’”
LBJ died a few weeks before the party, in January 1973. And they went ahead with it, “as he had ordered,” Butler said.
“We made a lot of money,” Butler said, “I don’t remember how much, but that was the start of our beautification of the lake and the trail.”