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LBJ LIBRARY AND MUSEUM DIRECTOR TO RETIRE
Austin, TX –Harry J. Middleton, the "Dean of Presidential Library Directors," will step down from his post at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on January 7, 2002 after thirty years of distinguished service.
Middleton officially revealed his intention to retire in a September 8 letter of resignation to John Carlin, Archivist of the United States. Carlin directs the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), of which the Johnson Library and nine other Presidential Libraries are part. "My 30-year run as leader of this great institution has been an adventure without equal," Middleton wrote, "an encounter with history past and present that has filled the experience with excitement and purpose."
His announcement was greeted with sadness and praise from Lady Bird Johnson, the widow of the 36th President. "His departure will leave an aching void in all of us who have been involved with the LBJ Library," Mrs. Johnson said yesterday. "But he will leave a legacy of excellence and achievement that is unequaled in the Presidential Library System. He has been everything that Lyndon had hoped for in his Library Director."
Tom Johnson, Chairman of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation, noted that Middleton had wanted to retire several years ago, "but the Johnson family and the Foundation members wouldn’t hear of it," he said. "We just refused to let go of such a splendid public servant. He is the very best."
"His departure will be a loss to all of us at NARA," Archivist Carlin said. "I’ve turned to Harry for advice on numerous occasions, as have his admiring colleagues here in Washington and in other Presidential Libraries. He has made a great contribution to the National Archives and Records Administration as a whole."
One of the nation’s most distinguished Presidential historians, Michael Beschloss, called Middleton "the Joe DiMaggio of Presidential Library Directors and has made a huge contribution to the writing of American history over three decades." Beschloss, is the author of the best-selling book, Taking Charge, based on the telephone tapes LBJ recorded during his first year in office.
Middleton’s name is virtually synonymous with the LBJ Library, since next year will mark not only his 30th year as director, but also the 30th anniversary of the Library itself. President Johnson let it be known he wanted Middleton as director while Middleton was working with LBJ on the President’s memoirs. The appointment was considered an unusual move because at the time, virtually all of the library directors were professional archivists. Middleton came up through a different route.
He joined the Johnson Administration as a speechwriter in 1966 after meeting the President while writing a report for a presidential commission.
Prior to that, Middleton had worked as a reporter for the Associated Press and as a magazine freelance writer. A native of Kansas, Middleton graduated with a degree in journalism from Louisiana State University. In 1986, LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communications inducted him into the Manship School Hall of Fame for distinguished alumni.
Middleton was described in the August 2000 edition of Texas Monthly as "The Man Who Saved LBJ," for his decision to release President Johnson’s taped telephone conversations. Since the public release of the tapes began in 1993, historians have reassessed the Johnson presidency. A panel of 58 historians assembled recently by the C-SPAN television network ranked LBJ tenth among the 41 presidents.
Others credited Middleton for his role in the presidential library system. Former President Gerald R. Ford told Middleton several years ago that, "President Johnson would have been so proud of the leadership you have provided over the years -- not only in making this great institution worthy of the man it honors, but in setting standards of excellence that have transformed the Presidential Library System."
During his tenure, Middleton ensured that the Library served researchers and historians by providing unparalleled assistance and access to the 45 million historical papers of LBJ and his close associates. The Library and Museum also provided a forum for scholars and policy-makers to debate the issues of civil rights, the Great Society and Vietnam.
The Library also successfully followed LBJ’s instructions for the Library to look ahead, instead of solely to the past. To that end, the Library has sponsored dozens of symposia convened to address such topics as "Our Children in Crisis" and "The Role of Government in Culture." Noted lecturers from across the political spectrum – from Jimmy Carter to Barry Goldwater – have attracted overflow crowds to the LBJ Auditorium.
Under Middleton’s leadership, the LBJ Library kept the promise of President Johnson when he declared during the Library’s 1971 dedication ceremonies: "It is all here: the story of our time -- with the bark off. There is no record of a mistake, nothing critical, ugly or unpleasant that is not included in the files here…This Library will show the facts -- not just the joy and triumphs , but the sorrow and failures, too."