Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Tyler Abell, May 29, 2018

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Bess Abell's birth

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Partial Transcript: Uh, this is an oral history interview with Tyler Abell concerning his wife, Elizabeth Clements "Bess" Abell.

Segment Synopsis: Abell discusses the circumstances behind his wife's birth, including why she had two birth certificates.

Keywords: Appearance; Bess Abell; C-section; Characteristics; Close; Connected; County clerk; County judge; Daughter; Decision; Earle Clements; FBI agents; FBI file; Freedom of Information Act; Grandson; Hometown; Hospital; Injury; Interviews; Issued; Knee; Knee replacement; Large; Later; Motivation; Operations; Reason; Similar; Son; Waiting; White House

Subjects: Birth; Birth certificates; Childhood; Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Evanston (Ind.); Father; Kentuckians; Labor; Life; Morganfield (Ky.); Mother; Security clearances; Time

00:03:48 - Tyler and Bess Abell's government work

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Partial Transcript: All of this FBI interest was--was that at the time of her getting a clearance for the White House?

Segment Synopsis: Abell briefly discusses his and his wife's work in the federal government over the years.

Keywords: Bess Abell; Earle Clements; Executive director; FBI; Federal judge; First job; Investigation; Law clerk; Secretary; Senate; Senate Campaign Committee; Stationed; U.S. Army

Subjects: Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Father; Federal government; Mail; Security clearances; Time; Travel; Work

00:05:51 - Bess Abell's early life

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Partial Transcript: She was brought up in--uh--in Morganfield, which is a little town in western Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Abell describes his wife's childhood in Morganfield, Kentucky during the 1930s.

Keywords: Alike; Arrangements; Bank; Bess Abell; Captain; Community; Construction; County judge; Details; Earle Clements; Editor; Engaged; Farming; Founder; Friendly; Great Depression; In touch; Leader; Legion hut; Pool; Prosperous; Reporter; Rich; School; Small town; Smart; Soil; Talented; Talking; Union County Advocate (newspaper); Works Progress Administration (WPA)

Subjects: American Legion; Childhood; Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Coal; Depressions--1929; Early life; Father; Football; Kentuckians; Learning; Life; Meetings; Memory; Minerals; Money; Morganfield (Ky.); Oil; People; Politicians; Reputation; Swimming; Union County (Ky.); University of Kentucky

00:09:22 - Bess Abell's father's political career when she was a child

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Partial Transcript: But she followed her father as he progressed in his, um, political activities.

Segment Synopsis: Abell discusses the political career of his wife's father (Earle Clements) when she was a child.

Keywords: A. B. "Happy" Chandler; Apartment; Bess Abell; Campaigns; Class; Committed; Congress; County judge; Earle Clements; Followed; Governor; House; Involved; Jesus; Junior high school; Lawrence Wetherby; Lieutenant governor; Politics; Progression; Q ST NW (Washington, D.C.); R ST NW (Washington, D.C.); Represented; School; Senate; Sunday school; Teacher; Tom Rhea; Trouble; World War II

Subjects: Animals; Attention; Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Church; Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Corydon (Ky.); Education; Father; God; Home; Morganfield (Ky.); Plants; Politicians; Resignation; Successful; Time; Union County (Ky.); Washington (D.C.); World War, 1939-1945

00:13:52 - Bess Abell's education / Dating Bess Abell

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Partial Transcript: And at that time--(clears throat)--in 1950, Bess was at Ward-Belmont.

Segment Synopsis: Abell talks of his and his wife's educations. Abell also recalls when he began dating his wife.

Keywords: Bess Abell; Boarding school; Boyfriend; Car dealer; Cheaper; Dating; Day student; Decision; Distance; Driving; Earle Clements; First date; Got along; Graduation; Guest; Later; Met; Middleground (horse); Public school; Roommate; Salary; Setup; Son; Today; Tuition

Subjects: Attention; Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Education; Father; Frankfort (Ky.); Friend; Horses; Kentucky Derby; Louisville (Ky.); Men; Money; Nashville (Tenn.); Oldsmobile automobile; Politicians; St. Albans School; Time; University of Kentucky; Ward-Belmont College (Nashville, Tenn.); Women

00:17:57 - Bess Abell's personality and friends / Bess Abell's first engagement

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Partial Transcript: When she was still the daughter of the governor...

Segment Synopsis: Abell recalls his wife's personality and friends as a young adult. Abell also discusses his wife's first engagement to another man, which was subsequently called off.

Keywords: Accelerated; Assumption; Bess Abell; Called off; Captain; Close; Consistent; Contact; Crowded; Daughter; Decision; Earle Clements; Engaged; Entertain; Football; Football team; Friends; Fun; Governor; Graduation; Horizons; Husband; Insightful; Interesting; Loyal; Maintained; Party; Realization; Remarkable; Remembered; Senate; Sense; Setting; Together; Typical; Wrong

Subjects: Boys; Classmates; Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Credit; Father; Girls; Good; Life; Morganfield (Ky.); People; Politicians; Summer; Time; University of Kentucky

00:23:40 - Bess Abell and Lyndon Johnson

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Partial Transcript: And then Bess worked for her father when they were, they were working together to help elect more Democrats to the Senate.

Segment Synopsis: Abell discusses his wife's friendship with Lyndon Johnson through her father.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Bess Abell; Biggest Democratic majority; Democrats; Difficult; Earle Clements; Elected; Got along; Johnson family; Large; Lyndon Johnson; Majority; Minority whip; People-oriented; Senate; Senators; Trouble; Unprecedented

Subjects: Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Father; Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973.; Management; Personality; Politicians; Work

00:25:08 - Bess Abell's ex-boyfriend / Marriage to Bess Abell

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Partial Transcript: I--I was introduced to John Griggs...

Segment Synopsis: Abell details his wife's interactions with her ex-boyfriend. Abell also recalls when he and his wife eloped in North Carolina in the 1950s.

Keywords: Angry; Apartment; Apology; Arrival; Bermuda shorts; Bess Abell; Breakfast; Burning Tree Club; Busy; Captain; Caravan; Cars; Casket; Celebrants; Circle; Close; Clothes; Dark; Date; Daylight; Decision; Drinking; Driving; Drunk; Earle Clements; Eloped; Engagement; Escorted; Evening gown; Excluded; Famous; Far; Fine; Friends; Funeral director; Gas station attendant; Glum; Happy; Heavy; House; Hug; In love; Invited; Justice of the Peace; Locker room; Met; Midnight; New Year's Eve; Nice; Older; Pallbearer; Party; Phone call; Plans; Reaction; Reunited; Romance; Siblings; Sidewalk; Significant; Sleeping; Sober; Speeding ticket; Steep; Step-father; Steps; Stop; Strength; Swimsuit; Talking; Tuxedo; U.S. Army; Unable; Visiting; Woodley Road NW (Washington, D.C.)

Subjects: Bethesda (Md.); Bourbon; Church; Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Drinking games; Ellicott City (Md.); Father; Florida; Football; Gas; Good; Hertford (N.C.); Home; January; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Lexington (Ky.); Marriage; Money; Morganfield (Ky.); North Carolina; Parents; Politicians; Shoes; Singing; Songs; Spirit; Summer; University of Kentucky; Virginia; Washington (D.C.); Winter; Women

00:36:49 - Bess Abell's church wedding

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Partial Transcript: And there was some question about what church, naturally that's the bride's prerogative.

Segment Synopsis: Abell reflects upon the church wedding he and his wife had soon after they eloped. Abell also discusses the wedding reception that Lyndon Johnson organized for the couple.

Keywords: Apartment; Ballroom; Beautiful; Bess Abell; Best man; Blessing; Bride; Carlton Hotel (Washington, D.C.); Ceremony; Christ Church (Washington, D.C.); Correspondent; Decision; Earle Clements; Elope; Episcopal; Friends; Greeting; Guests; Issue; Leave; Louisville Courier-Journal; Lyndon Johnson; Marriage license; Met; Minister; New Year's Day; Nice; Niece; Petit fours; Plate; Pleased; Published; Resolved; Senate; Signature book; Smart; Suit; U.S. Army; Undecided; University; Unofficial; Upset; Wedding cake; Wedding reception

Subjects: Article; Church; Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Cleveland (Ohio); Father; Georgetown (Washington, D.C.); Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973.; Kentuckians; Marriage; Mother; North Carolina; Only child; People; Politicians; Washington (D.C.); Wedding

00:43:19 - Army life / Bess Abell's college stories

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Partial Transcript: Not too long after the party we went back to, uh, to being in the Army.

Segment Synopsis: Abell briefly remembers his experiences from basic training in the U.S. Army. Abell also recalls some funny stories his wife told him from her college years.

Keywords: Apart; Apple; Author; Bess Abell; Boys' stories; Captain; Daughter; Earle Clements; Ex-boyfriend; Football team; Friends; Fun; Got along; Instincts; Jockstrap; Jokes; Keys; Later; Lawrence Wetherby; Lieutenant governor; Office; Pass; Pride; Quarterback; Relationship; Sitting; Sorority sister; Stories; Talking; Together; Tough; U.S. Army

Subjects: Barracks; Basic training; Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Father; Letters; Life; Love; Marriage; Men; People; Personality; Politicians; Table; University of Kentucky; Walking; Washington (D.C.); Women; Writing

00:49:43 - Bess Abell's views on women and careers

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Partial Transcript: She did make something of herself.

Segment Synopsis: Abell articulates his wife's views on women in the workforce.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Aware; Beliefs; Bess Abell; Bookkeeper; Capable; Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); Discouraging; Earle Clements; Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); In favor; Interview; Messenger runner; Office; Performance; Secretary; Unable; Unbothered; Women's liberation

Subjects: Chance; Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Father; Life; Marriage; Politicians; Time; Views; Washington (D.C.); Women; Work

00:52:34 - Life in the mid-1950s

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Partial Transcript: After her father was defeated in 1956...

Segment Synopsis: Abell describes what his and his wife's lives were like in the mid-1950s, both personally and professionally.

Keywords: 1956 Senatorial campaign; Acting Majority leader; Angry; Announcement; Apartment; Assumption; Bar exam; Bess Abell; Bobby Baker; Bus; Chairman; Clair Engle; Close; Crushing; Daughter; Defeated; Democratic Senate Campaign Committee; Devotion; Disrespect; Driving; Earle Clements; Early discharge; Elected; Elevation; Familiar; First defeat; Frank Church; Friends; Graduated; Heart attack; Helpful; Interested; Jim Eastland; Job; Job title; Keys; Late; Law school; Lyndon Johnson; Nice; Office; Passed; Payroll; Phone call; Pregnant; Recover; School; Senate; Sour; Special election; Struggling; Typewriter; U.S. Army; Unhappy; Unkind; Valuable; Wife; William Proxmire

Subjects: California; Capitol Hill (Washington, D.C.); Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Education; Father; George Washington University; Hope; Idaho; Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973.; Kentuckians; Life; Mississippi; October; People; Politicians; Rent; Reputation; Walking; Washington (D.C.); Wisconsin; Work

01:00:33 - The Abells' children / His involvement in Kennedy campaign

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Partial Transcript: But then Bess, um, Bess had the baby.

Segment Synopsis: Abell briefly discusses his children, including a son who was named after President Johnson. Abell reflects upon his role in the 1960 Kennedy-Johnson campaign.

Keywords: 1960 presidential campaign; Advance man; After; Away; Bess Abell; Campaigning; Decision; Efficient; Election; Federal judge; Hired; Hospital; Inaugural committee; John F. Kennedy; Lady Bird Johnson; Lonely; Lunch; Lyndon Abell; Lyndon Johnson; Mad; No office; Phone call; President; Room; Same; Signature; Son; Speechwriting office; Stationary; Supportive; Tired; Typing; Typist; Unanswered; Unpaid; Vacation; Vice president

Subjects: Cattle; Children; Democratic National Committee (U.S.); Grandparents; Johnson, Lady Bird, 1912-2007; Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973.; Letters; Mail; Mexico; Morganfield (Ky.); Politicians; Resignation; Speech; Travel; Volunteer; Washington (D.C.); Work; Writing

01:05:37 - Bess Abell's work as Lady Bird Johnson's secretary / Lyndon Johnson as vice president

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Partial Transcript: Mrs. Johnson decided she needed a secretary now that she was the wife of the vice president.

Segment Synopsis: Abell discusses his wife's work as the secretary to Lady Bird Johnson while she was Second Lady of the United States. Abell then considers what Lyndon Johnson was like as the vice president.

Keywords: Accompany; Agreed; Bess Abell; Decision; Dressing room; Full-time; Helpful; House; Inauguration day; Involved; John F. Kennedy; Johnson family; Lady Bird Johnson; Liked; Lyndon Johnson; Moving; No office; Part-time; Political career; Pool; Post office; Problems; Purchased; Salary; Secretary; Sheridan Hotel (Washington, D.C.); Swimming trunks; Underappreciated; Valuable; Vice president; Wife

Subjects: Children; Friend; Good; Johnson, Lady Bird, 1912-2007; Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973.; Learning; Life; People; Personality; Politicians; Spring Valley (Washington, D.C.); Swimming; Time; Travel; Washington (D.C.); Work

01:12:17 - Recollections of John F. Kennedy's assassination

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Partial Transcript: And on that fateful day of November 22nd, Bess had been taken down to the ranch...

Segment Synopsis: Abell shares his and his wife's perspectives on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Keywords: Airplane; Approval; Assert; BBQ; Back door; Bed; Bess Abell; Busy; Cancelled; Car; Carport; Cars; Coincidence; Column; Communication; Convincing; Cook; Details; Diary; Dictation; Disliked; Distance; Drew Pearson; Father-in-law; Flight; Front door; Garage; Golf cart; Head; Help; Instructions; John F. Kennedy; Lady Bird Johnson; Leaving; Lyndon Johnson; Maid; News; Newspaper syndicate; Phone call; Preparations; President; Private plane; Return; Servants; Shot; Situation; TV station; Unable; Vice president; White House

Subjects: Austin (Tex.); Dallas (Tex.); Dulles International Airport; Encouragement; Johnson, Lady Bird, 1912-2007; Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973.; LBJ Ranch House (Tex.); Luggage; Meeting; Politicians; Speech; Surprise; Telephone; Texas; Thinking; Travel; Washington (D.C.)

01:19:45 - Working in the White House / Influence of Earle Clements on Bess Abell's work

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Partial Transcript: It's impossible for anybody who hasn't experienced it to see what happens when you join the White House.

Segment Synopsis: Abell recalls what it was like to be a part of the White House entourage, especially for his wife in her role as Lady Bird Johnson's social secretary. Abell considers the influence of Earle Clements on his wife's work as social secretary.

Keywords: Amazing; Andrew Jackson; Arrangements; Bess Abell; Busy; Decision; Declined; Different; Direct line; Driving; Duties; Earle Clements; Enjoy; Entertaining; Events; Familiar; Fill in; First Lady; Gardener; Governor's breakfast; Governor's mansion; Guests; Horse riding; Imperial presidency; Important; Installed; Jackie Kennedy; James A. Garfield; James K. Polk; John F. Kennedy; Lady Bird Johnson; Lyndon Johnson; Modern; No trouble; Overpowering; Personable; Personal; Phone calls; Policeman; President; Presidential party; Rank; Realistic; Skilled; Social secretary; Today; Visiting; White House

Subjects: Children; Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Father; Frankfort (Ky.); Gardening; Johnson, Lady Bird, 1912-2007; Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973.; Kentucky; Kentucky Derby; Kentucky State Police; Learning; Middleburg (Va.); Mint juleps; Politicians; Presidents; Prisoners; Savoir-faire; Survival; Telephone; Time; Washington (D.C.); Work

01:27:45 - Background of Earle Clements

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Partial Transcript: Earle Clements was a--a phenomenal guy in--in every respect that anybody can think of.

Segment Synopsis: Abell details the background of his father-in-law, Earle Clements.

Keywords: Approach; Assignment; Background; Bess Abell; Captain; Center; Clinton Anderson; Coach; Committees; Congress; County; County clerk; County judge; Decision; Deputy sheriff; Drafted; Earle Clements; Eugene Worley; Farmer; Farming; Favors; Furious; Harry Truman; Help; House; Interested; Introduced; Low level; Minority whip; Nephew; New experience; New seat; No degree; Office; Officer; Persuasive; Phenomenal; Practice; Rank; Return; Sam Rayburn; Secretary of agriculture; Senate; Senator; Senior; Sheriff; Sheriff's office; Small; Speaker; State championship; Talking; Tied; Title; U.S. Army; World War I

Subjects: Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Dairy farmers; Death; Dice; Father; Football; High school; Jurors; Jury; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Learning; Money; Morganfield (Ky.); New Mexico; Oil; Oil fields; People; Politicians; Successful; Texas; Trials; Union County (Ky.); Unique; University of Kentucky; Work; World War, 1914-1918