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US Pres. Lyndon Johnson. (Photo by Dave Iwerks/Pix Inc./Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Liz Carpenter, the former press secretary of then Vice President Lyndon Johnson and later Lady Bird Johnson, died Saturday in Austin, a spokesperson for the LBJ Presidential Library confirmed. She was 89.
Liz Carpenter was considered a pioneer in journalism, politics and the feminist movement. She was a woman who wore many hates during her lifetime, and she is being fondly remembered for her fighting spirit and sense of humor.
A native of Salado, Carpenter began her career in 1942 as a reporter for the Austin American Statesman.
"You have only to cover the Texas Legislature to learn yourself who is for the people and who is for the corporate types,” Carpenter said in January 2007. “After you'd been covering these events all day, you'd go to some bar and then have the fun of talking about the people you'd been covering and ridiculing them."
She parlayed her connections to become an executive assistant to Vice President Lyndon Johnson. She was in Dallas the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and crafted the words Johnson used on his return to Washington.
"It was a sad time,” Carpenter later recalled. “The house was plunged into mourning for 30 days. But for those 30 days the whole house never really came alive with Christmas, even though some of the trees were up."
Carpenter became the first professional woman to become press secretary to a first lady -- her friend, Lady Bird Johnson.
After leaving the White House, she began her career as an author and public relations specialist. She pursued her lifelong quest for women’s rights, becoming a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus.
Her friends said they will miss her sense of humor and her gift for storytelling.
In a conversation with KXAN reporter Jim Swift in 2003, Carpenter recalled an encounter with President Lyndon Johnson.
The president, who grew up in the Depression, insisted that everyone turn off the lights at their White House offices at the end of the day. One night, she didn’t. She got a phone call the next day.
“He said, 'Why did you leave your lights on?'
"I said,'Well, I was scared to get out by myself.’
"And he said, 'Well after this you call me and I'll come over and escort you out.'
"Well, I never had to put that to work,” Carpenter laughed.
When asked if, during her five years in the White House, she ever took it for granted, Carpenter replied, “Never. I think every time you enter, you just think how lucky I am to live in this country.
"You never do,” she continued. “And every time I left it at night, you know, you look back over your shoulder to look at that house and see if you really are there.”
KXAN-TV in Austin contributed to this report.