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Life & Arts

Philanthropist Who Helped Bring Long Center to Austin Dies at 79

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Christian (left) at a 2012 LBJ Library State Dinner. Christian's stepdaughter Elizabeth (right) is president of the LBJ Foundation.

Prominent Austin philanthropist, arts activist and lawyer Jo Anne Christian died Thursday afternoon after a battle with lung cancer. She was 79 years old.

Christian, whose late husband George served as President Lyndon Johnson's press secretary, drew favorable comparisons to Lady Bird Johnson during her life for her sense of philanthropy and support of the arts.

“She was a huge civic activist, and a devout supporter of the arts,” Austin mayor Steve Adler said about Christian during a meeting Thursday. “She founded the Austin Lyric Opera and helped lead the effort to build the Long Center.”

Christian’s name is well-known in Austin, as she’s one of the “three Js” (along with Jare Smith and Jane Sibley) responsible for the construction of the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Center for the Performing Arts.

Aside from her efforts in seeing the Long Center through construction, Christian also helped found the Austin Lyric Opera and served as a board member there for more than 25 years. 

She earned an undergraduate degree from Texas Christian University and began law school at UT Austin in 1958. She was one of four women in her graduating law school class.

She met her husband, then-political strategist George Christian, while working as a first-year law student for Price Daniels. The two went on to raise six children during their marriage. George Christian passed away in 2002. 

Jo Anne Christian served for many other causes and arts organizations during her life, including the Blanton Museum of Art and the Austin Symphony League. She said in a 2014 Austin American-Statesman profile that she considered herself “an arts person."

"I’m selfish enough to think people should support them," Christian told the paper. "Everywhere you look, the arts groups that have been here for years have grown and continued to improve. I want the arts to stay healthy and prosper.”

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