On August 14, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson landed in a helicopter in the Rice Stadium parking lot with absolutely no warning. At about 11:30 that morning someone in the Rice administration got a phone call from a reporter, who told him that the president was going to be arriving there in a couple of hours. (I don’t know who this person was, even though he wrote up a detailed description of what happened that day, because he did not put his name on the memo he deposited in the files. Let this be a lesson to us all.) No one from the Secret Service or anyone else for that matter ever told the University that this was going to happen–all the information they had, from start to finish, came from reporters. It was August and classes hadn’t started, so most of Rice’s senior administration wasn’t around. (It strikes me just now that President Pitzer may have very recently resigned. In any event, he wasn’t there. The highest ranking person on campus that day seems to have been the Dean of Humanities–I’m not sure if that’s funny or sad, but my first impulse is to laugh.) A certain amount of chaos ensued.
In the end, Rice people from Campus Security and what was then called Building and Grounds Maintenance set up a landing spot on “the only logical and safe air path on the campus” with some bright yellow canvas panels that someone ran over and bought from a dry goods store in the Village. News people were now calling and asking for press credentials to cover the landing, which still no one had told Rice was going to occur. (They didn’t get them.) When Rice sent someone over to Ellington Field, it was clear that LBJ was about to arrive by plane but no one would tell them where he was going from there. He landed near the stadium just before 2:00.
Johnson was then swept in a limo over to the Shamrock Hotel, where he gave a rostrum-pounding, barn-burner of a speech to the mostly black doctors’ organization, the National Medical Association, from whom he received a thunderous welcome. (He told them to restrain medicare fees.) By the time he got back to the helicopter at Rice, a small group of Gene McCarthy supporters were waiting, but according to newspaper accounts he didn’t look at them.