AUSTIN, Texas – Thousands of visitors streamed past the casket of Lady Bird Johnson as former presidents and first ladies headed to Texas for her funeral service Saturday.
About 2,000 guests are expected at the service at Riverbend Centre, including first lady Laura Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush; former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton; President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn Carter; and former first lady Nancy Reagan. Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President Kennedy, also was expected to attend.
Family and friends began taking their seats hours before the Saturday afternoon ceremony for the wife of former President Lyndon B. Johnson was to begin at the church nestled in the hills near Lake Austin. Behind the pulpit, a large window looked out onto the Hill Country.
Two huge sprays of multi-colored flowers at the front of the sanctuary included wildflowers and blooms from the gardens of friends of Lady Bird Johnson, an environmentalist devoted to preserving wildflowers and native plants.
Several family members were expected to speak, as well as TV host Bill Moyers, a former press secretary for President Johnson.
Three days of ceremonies began Friday with private family prayer services, followed by a huge public outpouring. The former first lady's body lay in repose at the LBJ Library and Museum, which was open to the public overnight.
About 10,500 people had visited the library to pay their respects, according to a family spokeswoman.
Johnson died Wednesday at her Austin home of natural causes.
"My mother had 94 delicious years. She lived them to the fullest," daughter Luci Baines Johnson said Friday. Despite her mother's medical problems, she said, Lady Bird Johnson recently toured a university art museum and delighted in wildflowers in the nearby Hill Country.
"As long as she drew breath, she was wanting to discover and make an impact on beauty," her daughter said.
Ceremonies for Johnson began with a religious service for the family Friday at her beloved Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which Johnson founded in 1982 to further the preservation of wildflowers and native plants.
Her casket was later placed in the exact location in the Johnson library where her husband's casket rested after his death in 1973.
About 600 admirers were waiting in the Texas heat when the library's doors opened Friday afternoon.
The first person to file past the casket wiped a tear from her eye as she left the building.
"I'm very honored. What a neat lady," said Mary Vidani, 57, who lives near Austin. "I had to be here. I always wanted to meet her and shake her hand and this is as close as I could get."
Family friend and spokesman Neal Spelce said the program for Saturday's services has been in the works for several years and Lady Bird Johnson was heavily involved. She loved hymns, so there will be lots of singing, he said.
At the end of Saturday's service, the University of Texas Longhorn Band was to play "The Eyes of Texas."
The service was invitation-only but was to be televised. Johnson will be buried Sunday next to her husband at the LBJ Ranch.