Liz Carpenter dies at 89; writer was press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson

Times Staff And Wire Reports

Liz Carpenter, an author and former press secretary to First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, died Saturday at an Austin, Texas, hospital after contracting pneumonia earlier in the week, said her daughter, Christy Carpenter. She was 89.

On Nov. 22, 1963, Carpenter scribbled the 58 words that Lyndon Johnson delivered to the nation when he returned to Washington from Dallas after the assassination of President Kennedy:

“This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep personal tragedy. I know that the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help and God’s.”

Later, Carpenter wrote that she couldn’t take all the credit for Johnson’s speech: “God was my ghostwriter.”


Carpenter was Lady Bird Johnson’s press secretary from 1963 to 1969. She was an assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education under President Carter and served on the International Women’s Year Commission under President Ford and the White House Conference on Aging under President Clinton.

She was a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus and co-chaired ERAmerica, which fought for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Born Mary Elizabeth Sutherland Sept. 1, 1920, in Salado, Texas, she met the Johnsons while working as a reporter for a Washington news service with her husband, Leslie Carpenter. He died in 1974.

She worked as Lyndon Johnson’s executive assistant before joining his wife’s staff.


Known for her humor, Carpenter once joked about one of her books, “Ruffles and Flourishes,” which chronicled life among political and international leaders.

“My daughter says that the rarest book in America today is a copy of ‘Ruffles and Flourishes’ that hasn’t been personally autographed by the author,” she said.

The Johnsons’ daughter, Luci Baines Johnson, said Saturday in a statement that Carpenter was her parents’ “dawn to midnight ‘can do’ supporter.”

In addition to her daughter, Carpenter is survived by son Scott Carpenter and two grandchildren.