AUSTIN, Texas - Lady Bird Johnson died amid song and prayer as she spent her last moments with her two daughters, other family and friends at her bedside, a priest said Thursday.
"It was a beautiful scene, truly," said the Rev. Bob Scott, a friend of the family who was called to the former first lady's Austin home Wednesday and was present when she died at age 94.
Johnson, the widow of President Lyndon B. Johnson, is Episcopalian. She and her family knew Scott for years because of his association with St. Austin's Catholic School, attended by some of her grandchildren.
Scott, called by Johnson's daughter Luci Baines Johnson and granddaughter Nicole Covert, was told that she was in a coma and close to death, he said in a news conference Thursday.
When he arrived at her home overlooking the city, the multi-denominational group of about a dozen people asked that he lead them in prayer. He said he suggested giving Johnson a welcome into heaven, and he read the prayer "Litany of the Saints."
After each saint's name was read, the group responded, "Pray for Claudia," Johnson's given first name. As soon as he finished the prayer, a nurse at the head of the bed said, "She has passed," Scott said. "At that very moment."
There was also a hymn, sung at the behest of Johnson's older daughter, Lynda Johnson Robb. Scott said he couldn't recall the name of the hymn.
"It just seemed to be sort a song of triumph, to me," he said. "It was something that both Catholics and Protestants sing together. We all knew the words, so that was surprising."
He said Johnson was unconscious before she died, and that her death was peaceful.
"Even though death scenes are not exactly enjoyable ... the meaning of it was so beautiful, the faith of these people," Scott said. "The Holy Spirit sort of works with us once in a while, gets us to do what we should do at the proper moment and for the proper situation. I felt myself blessed to be there."
Johnson's family members are declining to speak publicly this week. But Luci Baines Johnson issued a statement Thursday through a family spokesman thanking her mother's caregivers and "all who ministered to her at the hour of her ascension into heaven."
A series of services to remember the former first lady will begin Friday with a private family Eucharist at her beloved Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Johnson, an environmentalist devoted to preserving wildflowers and native plants, founded the center in 1982 on her 70th birthday.
On Thursday, admirers of Johnson visited the center to remember her and sign a condolence guest book. She last visited the center in May for its annual fundraising gala.
"Everybody around here today sort of has wet eyes," said Marsha Bissett, 70, a volunteer clerk in the center's gift shop. "There goes one of the great ones."
The public can visit her casket at the LBJ Library and Museum at the University of Texas, where she will lie in repose beginning at 1:15 p.m. Friday until 11:30 a.m. Saturday. It will be in the same spot at the library where her husband's casket rested after his death in 1973.
An invitation-only funeral, which will be televised, will be held Saturday, and she will be buried Sunday next to her husband at the family ranch in Stonewall.
Associated Press writer April Castro contributed to this report.
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