White House Weddings: The Johnsons had a huge affair

Published 2:36 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2023

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By  Betty Etchison West

For the Enterprise

It had been 32 years since there had been a White House wedding when Lynda Bird Johnson, the daughter of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson, and Charles Spittal Robb were married in the White House East Room on Dec. 9, 1967.

The last White House wedding had been that of Harry Hopkins, an advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Louise Gill Macy, which took place in the Oval Yellow Room on July 30, 1942.

Lynda Bird was not the first daughter of President and Mrs. Johnson to get married. Her sister, Luci Baines Johnson, the Johnson’s younger daughter, got married the year before. She had converted to Catholicism and was married in the church attended by the groom, Patrick John Nugent.

Luci was the first presidential daughter to be married in a church, the first to be married in a Catholic ceremony, and the first bride to be married in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic Church in the United States. Even though the bride did not choose to get married in the White House, a huge reception was held at the White House after the wedding ceremony in the church.

There was much activity at the White House as the staff prepared for the 700 guests who would arrive for the reception after the Johnson/Nugent wedding ceremony. Among those guests would be special guest, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who had gotten married in the White House sixty years earlier.

Marie Smith and Louise Durbin in their book, “White House Wedding” describe some of the decorations for the receptions: “A canopy was put up over the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden where the guests would wait before they would move to the Blue Room to meet the bride and groom.  The long corridor through which the guests walked to the Blue Room was lined with green buckets of white petunias and pink geraniums.  The gold chandelier in the State Dining room was used as a holder from which greens and flowers cascaded.  Compotes of yellow, white, blue, and orange flowers decorated the buffet table in the State Dining Room. “

After the cake cutting with a sword-like knife and dancing to the Peter Duchin’s Orchestra, the bride and groom went upstairs, changed into traveling clothes, and departed for a honeymoon.

In the fall of the next year, 1967, the Johnson family was preparing for another wedding. Lynda Bird, who the President described as being much more like her mother than she was like him because she was studious and ambitious, got engaged to Marine Captain Charles Robb.  Lynda Bird had met Captain Robb while he was serving at a social aide at the White House. Of all the officers who served as White House aides, Captain Robb was the one who caught the eye of the President’s daughter.  More importantly, he became her finance.

Robb was to be deployed to Vietnam in early 1968.  The young couple wanted to get married before he left so the Dece. 9, 1967 date was set. The wedding was held in the East Room with the Right Rev. Gerald Nicholas McAllister performing the ceremony.  There were 650 guests at the ceremony.

Lynda Bird looked beautiful as she entered the room on the arm of her father, President Lyndon Baines Johnson. She wore a dress designed by Geoffrey Beene. It was a high-necked dress with long sleeves made of silk satin. It was not adorned with any lace, but attached mid-back was a gathered long train. Her veil was long and fluffy. Lynda Bird carried a small bouquet of white flowers. She had eight bridesmaids, who wore red a tribute to the season.

After the ceremony, the guests were asked to leave the East Room for a bit.  The family went upstairs to the family Oval Yellow Room to have pictures made. The guests were then invited back into the East Room for cocktails, a buffet, a cake cutting, and a dance.  That was the first time the East Room had been converted from the wedding venue into a venue for cocktails and a buffet meal.   After enjoying their meal, the bride and groom cut the wedding cake, and, then, danced the first dances with music provided by the Peter Duchin orchestra before disappearing.  They went once again to the family quarters where they changed into their traveling clothes.  Lynda Bird and Chrles flew away to their honeymoon destination in a helicopter.

President Johnson wanted to be sure that the American people knew that no taxpayer money was being spent on the weddings of his daughters so he issued a statement.  He said that he might have to take out a loan to pay for his daughters’ weddings but no taxpayers money was spent.  The loan part was probably a joke because the family was wealthy as the result of owning communication facilities.  In fact, the first station was inherited by Mrs. Johnson, and she managed it well from that point on.  Mr. Johnson said, “You know my wife is the only one in the family who has ever met a payroll. ‘

Captain Robb actually served two tours of duty in Vietnam.  He commanded a rifle company in combat and received a Bronze Star.  After Charles Robb was discharged from the United States Marine Corp, he went to the University of Virginia from which he received his law degree.  He was elected the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in 1977 and then Governor of Virginia in 1981.  Robb later served two terms, from 1989 until 2001, as a United States Senator.  After leaving the Senate in 2001, he joined the George Mason University faculty.  His wife, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, has been on the National Board of Reading is Fundamental and she has been a contributing editor to the “Ladies Home Journal.”

Tragedy struck the Robb family when their home in Virginia was destroyed by fire in 2021.  Both former Senator Charles Robb and his wife, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, were hospitalized but were not critically injured.  According to the Fairfax County property records, the value of the house, which overlooked the Potomac River, was 3.4 million dollars.  The Robbs’ three daughters, Jennifer, Catherine, and Lucinda, said “We have what is most important to us—our mom and dad.”