About 180 people gathered at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, where her coffin, draped in white cloth with blue embroidery, rested in front of a large portrait of Johnson in a field of flowers with a hat on. Nearby, two vases held lavender-hued bluebells, her favorite flower.
"We are here to let Lady Bird go and to celebrate her glad release," said the Rev. Stephen Kinney, former rector at Johnson's home church, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg. "This is our time to say goodbye."
The service for the 94-year-old widow of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson ended with a song written for her.
Daughter Lynda Johnson Robb watched from the front row, swaying to the music and smiling. She had walked in with her sister, Luci Baines Johnson, as service members representing every branch of the U.S. military carried their mother's casket.
About 60 family members and many volunteers from the wildlife center were among those at the private service, which was to be followed by other ceremonies Friday and throughout the weekend.
Johnson, who died Wednesday, will be buried next to her husband at the couple's Central Texas ranch at her request. She also wanted to follow the same path his body did 34 years ago to the LBJ Library and Museum to lie in repose in the same spot.
Members of the public can visit her casket at the LBJ Library and Museum at the University of Texas, where she will lie in repose from 1:15 p.m. Friday until 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
An invitation-only funeral Saturday will be televised, and Johnson is to be buried Sunday at the ranch near Stonewall.