Distinguished former LBJ library director dies at 95

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Harry Middleton, who released the infamous LBJ telephone tapes during his tenure as director of the LBJ Presidential Library, died on Jan. 20 at a retirement facility in Austin at the age of 95, according to a press release. 

From 1971 to 2002, Middleton served as library director and was thought to be one of the most renowned directors in the presidential library system, according to current director Mark Updegrove. He also spent nine years teaching at the University following his retirement from the library. 

Before he worked at the library, Middleton served as a staff assistant to former President Lyndon B. Johnson, writing speeches and other messages for Johnson in the White House from 1967 to 1969. Middleton ultimately used these experiences to help him run the LBJ Library and
while teaching. 

The class Middleton taught was called “The Johnson Years,” available to upper-division liberal arts and humanities students. A majority of the class was centered on bringing in individuals who knew Johnson during his presidency, including both of his daughters, Luci Baines Johnson and Lynda Bird Johnson Robb. 

Ben Mendelson, a third-year law student, is a family friend and former student of Middleton. Mendelson said he deeply appreciated the way Middleton taught through storytelling.  

“It was the best experience I ever had as a UT undergrad,” Mendelson said. “It was very much a class where history came to life — where history was not a textbook, history was people.”

In an article published in Texas Monthly in August 2000, Middleton was called “The Man who Saved LBJ,” as many historians reassessed his presidency following the publishing of the tapes in 1993.

“I think there’s some truth to that (statement) in that (Middleton) tried to get those tapes published as soon as possible,” Updegrove said. “It shows that Johnson wasn’t just picking up the agenda of JFK. He genuinely cared about civil rights.”

Middleton was also a major figure in creating the partnership between the Library and the LBJ School of Public Affairs. 

LBJ School dean Angela Evans said in a statement the school owes a great debt to Middleton for his decades of support.

“Mr. Middleton was an exemplar of public service … but also embraced his role as a mentor and teacher of new generations of young, aspiring public servants,” Evans said in her statement.