Betty Ford, the outspoken and much admired wife of President Gerald Ford died this past weekend in Palm Springs, California. She was 93. As First Lady (from 1974 to 1977), Ford battled breast cancer, overcame addiction, and helped found one of the best known rehabilitation centers in the United States, The Betty Ford Center. For her work in this field, she was honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, awarded by George H.W. Bush in 1998.
Mrs. Ford was born in Chicago in 1918 and pursued her love of dance before meeting and marrying lawyer and WWII veteran, Gerald Ford. The Fords had four children together: Michael, John, Steven, and Susan. In the past, The New York Times has called her a great impact on American culture and a symbol for new political and cultural ideas. Ford encouraged openness among women and spoke out about her ideas. She spoke understandingly about taboo subjects of the time such as pre-marital sex, abortion, drug and alcohol addiction, the benefits of psychiatric treatment, and brought the issue of breast cancer to light among American women. Ford was also an advocate of the arts and even received an award from Parsons The New School for Design in recognition of her style.
After Ford’s addiction recovery she established the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California in 1978 for the treatment of chemical dependency. Betty delegated the director position to her daughter Susan in 2005. Even after leaving the White House, Betty still played an active role in public American life. She remained active in women’s issues, taking on numerous speaking engagements and lending her name to charities for fundraising. She was the recipient of many prestigious awards such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President George H.W. Bush in 1991.
In a statement this past Friday, President Barack Obama said the Betty Ford Center would honor Mrs. Ford’s legacy “by giving countless Americans a new lease on life. As our nation’s First Lady, she was a powerful advocate for women’s health and women’s rights”. Thursday morning, her casket will travel by motorcade to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a private burial alongside her husband. Betty Ford’s influence has forever changed the way America thinks and her contributions to our society will always be honored and remembered.