AUSTIN, Texas -- Past the images of escalating chaos in Vietnam, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the triumph of mankind's entry into space, at the top of a marble staircase at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library here, was Lady Bird Johnson.
Her coffin draped simply and unadorned by flowers as thousands of mourners filed past, Johnson, as she so often did in life, once again offered a bit of calm amid the tumult of history vividly on display all around her.
Johnson died Tuesday at age 94, and at her funeral yesterday afternoon at the Riverbend Centre church, representatives of first families stretching back half a century to the Eisenhower administration came to pay their condolences.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who hopes to be the first person to be both a first lady and a president, sat next to her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who could be the first man to serve the same role as Lady Bird Johnson.
Bill Clinton was seated next to Laura Bush, who like Johnson must provide comfort to another president from Texas leading America in an unpopular war. Jimmy Carter, who has been harshly critical of the current Texan in the White House, was on Bush's other side with his wife, Rosalynn.
In the row behind them were representatives of past generations, including a frail Nancy Reagan, who worked tirelessly both before and after her husband's passing to bolster his legacy.
Johnson would have been no stranger to the complicated tangle of ambition and achievement, respect and resentment embodied by those gathered to pay her farewell.
From the moment she met her husband in 1934 and his proposal of marriage only one day later, she lived a political life, recalled in detail by the friends and family members gathered here.
Having studied art and journalism at the University of Texas, Johnson would later say that she considered becoming a teacher or reporter in a far-off place like Alaska or Hawaii.
"But all that never happened because I met Lyndon," she would recall.
Bill Moyers, who was President Johnson's press secretary, recalled for the audience the drama and tragedy that seemed to touch her life at every turn, from the death of her mother when she was only 5 to the the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which resulted in her husband's ascending to the Oval Office.
"I have moved on stage to a part I never rehearsed," she told reporters.
But as the speakers at her funeral recalled, she quickly found her place. "She seemed to grow calmer as the world around her grew more furious," Moyers said.
When not confronted with the turmoil of the outside world, she had to deal with what Moyers called the "Vesuvius eruptions" of her husband.
As her children and grandchildren testified, she was one of the few who could accomplish that task.