Portrait of a Foreign Service Secretary | Welcome Aboard!

January 1978 | Am Consul Karachi—Stuck in an elevator (continued)

After claiming she had accidentally sat on LBJ’s ten-gallon hat as an eight-year old youth BJ waited for the smile to melt off my face. Then she continued her autobiography while I fought to keep the elevator walls from inching closer …

<Feature photo of LBJ by johndenugent.com
johnson city-tx
photo by pinterest.com

“In the early ‘30’s I had graduated from LBJ’s alma mater Johnson City High School. Times were tough back then. LBJ had been appointed head of the Texas National Youth Administration. His job enabled him to use the government to create education and job opportunities for young people. I was desperate for a job to save money for college at Baylor University in Houston.”

I had the feeling BJ would much rather pause with a sip of bourbon in between each scene her memory projected.

“I told the secretary I had an appointment with LBJ and while she went over to look at her calendar I snuck into his office. He recognized me as a hometown girl. When I told him my name, of course, he remembered. ‘You’re that little girl that sat on my hat at church. You know what? You were right. I should’ve taken better care of that hat.’”

As a result, LBJ had me teaching Mexican kids how to speak English from the next day until I entered Baylor three months later.”

I almost asked her if there had been a romantic interlude between her and LBJ, but though better of it.

“Like I said, after graduating from college I headed to Washington D.C. During World War II I worked on several government programs. At one time I had three different jobs. I heard that LBJ was awarded a Silver Star for his heroics as a U.S. Naval Reserve officer in the South Pacific during the war.”

She paused again to ring up more memories.

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“In 1948 LBJ ran for the U.S. senate for the state of Texas. He hired me on to work on his staff.”

She gave me that serious gaze again and said, “Nobody ever accused me of being a counselor.”

“What do you mean?”

“In Texas we take care of our own. One of LBJ’s strategists, a guy named Jerry, who LBJ relied on a lot, was obviously having marital problems with his wife, Judy who played a minor role on the team. I offered to meet Jerry at a bar to discuss his issues with Judy. They were a nice couple and I hated to see their marriage ruining in full view of the election staff.”

It sounded like something BJ would do, but I could see the rift coming.

“Jerry admitted to me that he had an extra-marital affair two years previously and had confessed it to Judy. But ever since then she had been paranoid about his activities. Well, it turned out that one of Judy’s girlfriends just happened to be at the bar that evening and told her about us. It was an innocent affair.”

BJ blushed at the word, “Affair.” I don’t think she had ever been married, but according to RCO Bob (Roberson) she had broken the hearts of several beaus along her Foreign Service journey.

“Judy talked divorce and Jerry considered quitting the campaign. When LBJ found out about it he was livid. I tried to explain. Later, he took me aside during the height of the campaign and said, ‘I’m having you reassigned to another organization where I believe your talents will be more useful. I suspect they will assign you to some backwater country so that I won’t have to see you around here or in the fine state of Texas again.’”

“What happened?”

Before she could respond I sighed a huge relief as the elevator suddenly jerked to life. Help was on the way.

BJ acted like it was inconsequential. She heaved a laugh and said, “What happened was that the next day I was sworn in at the State Department where a veteran diplomat proclaimed, ‘You’re officially a member of the Foreign Service… Welcome aboard!’”

The elevator door opened to the anxious gazes of RCO Bob Roberson and members of the office.

BJ reached out, clasping the big bag of candy and said, “Anybody want some M&M’s?”

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