The LBJ Library, LBJ Foundation, and Johnson family remember Bess Abell

Oct 12, 2020

The LBJ Library, LBJ Foundation, and Johnson family mourn the death of Bess Abell, White House social secretary during the Johnson administration. Abell passed away Oct. 9, at her home in Potomac, Maryland, at the age of 87.

Abell was smart, witty, charming, creative, a great storyteller, and exemplified the “Can Do” attitude so valued by President and Mrs. Johnson. Her husband, Tyler Abell, served as chief of protocol in the last months of the Johnson White House years.

As social secretary, Abell planned state dinners, receptions, luncheons, entertainment, and the weddings and receptions of Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson, daughters of President and Mrs. Johnson. It was a busy job she enjoyed, “It’s the best job in the White House, next to being First Lady.”

Read about her remarkable life in The Washington Post: https://wapo.st/30SnGgb

Statements from Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson:


“Bess Abell was as lively as a cricket. As social secretary, she was always thinking of ways she could make the White House a warm and exciting place to welcome the general public, our family, and special guests. For me, she was the grand empresario of our wedding in December 1967, daring to have the bridesmaids in Christmas red and able to recycle our decorations for use in the Christmas season.”

Lynda Johnson Robb

“Bess Abell had more creativity in her little finger than most of us have in our wildest dreams. Mother trusted Bess completely. It was trust well deserved. She planned every detail of my wedding and White House reception. When she learned that at age 19, I had naively chosen a wedding dress that was created by a non-union shop she made sure the one I wore was. But she also made me feel this most important day was mine despite the challenges of the time. I loved her as my parents did. Our loss is surely heaven’s gain.”

Luci Baines Johnson

Photo by Yoichi Okamoto, 1/16/1964

 Photo by Yoichi Okamoto, 1/16/1964

Bess, Lady Bird, Liz

 Bess Abell, Lady Bird Johnson, Liz Carpenter on Air Force 1, photo by Yoichi Okamoto, 11/2/1966

Bess Abell, Red Room, White House

 Bess Abell, Red Room, White House, photo by Robert Knudsen, 10/2/1968

Luci Baines Johnson, Jan Shepard, Liz Carpenter, Lady Bird Johnson, Joe Moran, Bess Abell on the “Lady Bird Special”, photo: 10/9/1964

 Luci Baines Johnson, Jan Shepard, Liz Carpenter, Lady Bird Johnson, Joe Moran, Bess Abell on the “Lady Bird Special”, photo: 10/9/1964

Liz Carpenter, Lady Bird Johnson, Bess Abell, Ashton Gonella, photo by Yoichi Okamoto, 1/17/1969

 Liz Carpenter, Lady Bird Johnson, Bess Abell, Ashton Gonella, photo by Yoichi Okamoto, 1/17/1969

Bess Abell, Liz Carpenter

 Bess Abell, Liz Carpenter, photo by Robert Knudsen, 1/18/1968

Abell spent years working and traveling with Lady Bird Johnson. She had a close professional and personal relationship with the first lady.