Jan. 28, 1964 - President Johnson told Mrs. Edith Lehman (right), widow of former New York Governor Herbert Lehman, today that her late husband had “made it possible for me to be here today.” At a White House ceremony, the President recalled that in 1955, then Senator Lehman had sponsored a Senate resolution of prayer for Mr. Johnson’s recovery from a heart attack “when I was hovering between life and death.” “It was just at the time when I needed every prayer I could get,” Mr. Johnson said, “and his prayer was answered.” The President’s remarks were made after he presented a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mrs. Lehman before an assembly of political notables. Mr. Lehman was to have received the award with 30 other distinguished citizens last Dec. 6, but he died the day before while preparing to come to Washington.
“Today it is altogether fitting,” President Johnson said, “that in special ceremony we present Herbert Lehman’s Medal of Freedom to the one person who shared his life and his hopes, his triumphs and disappointments, who was always with him in sunshine and in sorrow. Edith Lehman was the indispensable companion. When the days were dark or the mornings seemed far away, Edith Lehman was always there.”
“The nation is always diminished when a patriot dies,” the President continued. “Senator Lehman believed in the worth of a human being. He was civilized and calm when all around him were confused. He did not accept the view of the gray-minded and the doom-hangers that the corrupted currents of this world would overwhelm. He believed in the goodness and the rightness of the individual citizen, and in that arena he fought his long fight. What a happy legacy he leaves to his family and to his state and to his nation.”
Mrs. Lehman accepted the red, white, blue, and gold medal with thanks to the President and to those who had come to the ceremony. “I can’t tell you how honored I feel to accept this medal,” she said. “I want to also say that the knowledge that this medal was coming to him added a great deal to his last hours of life. And I want to thank you, Mr. President, for the many things you have done which have meant a great deal to him. I know he listened to you. When we were in Atlantic City, we listened to your speech to the joint Congress [on Nov. 27], and he was very thrilled and very encouraged and very happy. I know he wrote to you at that time, and you were kind enough to reply. He never saw the reply, but I want to thank you very, very much.”