Tuesday, July 12, 2011

First Lady, Indeed

Betty Ford was one of the few First Ladies whose exploits and name recognition were greater than that of her husband's.

If you were going to compile a Top 5 List of All-Time Great First Ladies, you'd better put Mrs. Ford on it.

The caveat is that Betty Ford accomplished the lion's share of her fame after she left the White House. Then again, she was only a resident there for 29 months (August 1974-January 1977).

Betty Ford is being laid to rest today in Palm Desert, California, with several former First Ladies and Michelle Obama in attendance. Mrs. Ford died last week at age 93.

Outside of Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford was the most politically and socially active First Lady in modern times. It started with her raising of awareness of breast cancer, after she underwent a mastectomy in 1974.

She wasn't a favorite among the conservative Republicans, despite her being a member of the GOP herself---along with her husband, Jerry. Her more moderate and sometimes liberal stance on social issues turned the conservative branch of the party off.

Betty Ford was in the White House in the salad days of the women's movement. She was actively in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, pro-choice when it came to abortion, and very vocal on the hot button issues of the day.

Betty Ford was no wallflower.

Then, of course, her most famous mark---the Betty Ford Rehab Center, which became known simply as "Betty Ford," as in, "I heard he checked into Betty Ford because of his addiction."

From Wikipedia:

In 1978, the Ford family staged an
intervention and forced her to confront her alcoholism and an addiction to opioid analgesics that had been prescribed in the early 1960s for a pinched nerve. "I liked alcohol," she wrote in her 1987 memoir. "It made me feel warm. And I loved pills. They took away my tension and my pain."

In 1982, Betty Ford established the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California, for the treatment of chemical dependency.

In 1991, Mrs. Ford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H.W. Bush. She received a Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.


Betty Ford: 1918-2011


Betty Ford was a groundbreaker, and a tough old lady who didn't really care all that much about what people thought of her or her ideas. Once she decided to take a stance or some action, that was that. A few presidents could have learned from her.

There's no telling how many people have had their lives literally saved by a stay (or two) at the Betty Ford Center. And there's no telling if the movements that Mrs. Ford lent her voice to would have been as successful, had she not. There's a good chance that they would not have, in retrospect.

Both she and her husband lived to be 93---becoming the first Presidential Couple to both live past their 90th birthdays.

Contrary to belief, Betty Ford wasn't born in Grand Rapids (she was born in Chicago), but she certainly grew up in Michigan's second-largest city.

Her giving ways began when she was still a teenager. She entertained and worked with children with disabilities at the Mary Free Bed Home for Crippled Children in the 1930s. She studied dance and graduated from a dancing school in 1935.

Maybe Betty Ford's affinity for life's underdogs took root when she lost her father at age 16 when he died of carbon monoxide poisoning while working on a car, despite the garage doors being open.

After being married for five years to William Warren, who she had known since age 12, Betty married Gerald Ford in 1948. The wedding was in mid-October, with Jerry a few weeks away from his first election as a Congressional candidate.

The New York Times reported about the timing of the wedding, "Jerry was running for Congress and wasn't sure how voters might feel about his marrying a divorced ex-dancer."

That divorced ex-dancer turned into one of the most adored, revered and respected women of her time, or of any time.

"I've learned a lot about myself," she once said. "Most of it is all right. When I add up the pluses and subtract the minuses, I still come out pretty well. "

Indeed. Rest in peace, Mrs. First Lady.




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