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Liz Carpenter, Johnson White House staffer, dies at 89

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

In 1963, Carpenter scribbled the words that Lyndon Johnson delivered to the nation when he returned to Washington, D.C., from Dallas following the assassination of President John F. 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."

Carpenter was first lady Lady Bird Johnson's press secretary from 1963 to 1969. She served as assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education under President Jimmy Carter, on the International Women's Year Commission under President Gerald Ford and on the White House Conference on Aging under President Bill 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.

"I personally am going to go to that Great Precinct Meeting in the Sky kicking and screaming if I'm not in the Constitution of the country that I worked for, paid taxes to, tried to be a total thinking citizen in," she wrote.

One of Carpenter's favorite expressions was that "we stand taller because we stand on the shoulders of others," said her daughter, Christy Carpenter.

"Women in political office, in boardrooms and homes across America stand taller because they stood on her broad shoulders," she said.

Carpenter got to know the Johnsons while working as a reporter for a Washington news service with her husband, Leslie Carpenter.

She worked as Johnson's executive assistant before joining his wife's staff. In 1977, after 34 years in Washington, Carpenter said she had seen both sides of public life and returned to Austin.

"As a reporter, the spectator sport of the rise and fall of officialdom never dulls. Later, as a participant, one is swept up in the disappointments and achievements, stings, barbs or applause of those you follow and your own role in it," she wrote.

Lady Bird Johnson described Carpenter as a constant source of ideas and entertainment.

"I want to tell you how we see Liz," the first lady said in 1967. "Creativity, laughter, speed, kind and thoughtful deeds."

Carpenter was inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 1985.

Along with her daughter in New York City, Carpenter is survived by a son, Scott Carpenter of Vashon, Wash., and two grandchildren.

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