The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, said her husband, Tyler Abell, who served in the final months of Johnson’s presidency as chief of protocol. His appointment carried ambassadorial rank and, along with his wife’s position, placed the Abells among the elite Washington power couples of that era.
Mrs. Abell’s acquaintance with the Johnsons dated at least to the 1950s, when Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Tex.) was serving as Senate majority leader and Mrs. Abell’s father, Sen. Earle C. Clements (D-Ky.), was majority whip. The Johnsons feted Bess and Tyler Abell when they married in 1955, and five years later, the Abells named their second son Lyndon, after the future president.
Mrs. Abell volunteered in the 1960 campaign that thrust Lyndon Johnson to the vice presidency, under President John F. Kennedy, and became personal secretary to Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird Johnson, after their victory. Upon Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Lyndon was