Betty Ford may be best remembered for her role as the First Lady of the United States from 1974 to 1977. During her husband’s tenure, she was a vocal supporter of breast cancer awareness following her own mastectomy in 1974, pro-choice on abortion, a leader in the Women’s movement and an activist for the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment). But, I believe her greatest moment came when she not only faced a personal demon, but also used her success as a teaching tool for others.
Elizabeth Anne “Betty” Bloomer was born in Chicago and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After graduating from Central High School, she went on to study modern dance at the Bennington School of Dance. While a student at Bennington, she met renowned choreographer Martha Graham and became a member of her Auxiliary Performance Troupe in New York City.
Bloomer returned to Michigan in 1941 and became a fashion coordinator for a department store. During this time, she continued to pursue her love of dance by starting her own performance group and teaching dance to handicapped children. In 1947, she began dating Gerald R. Ford, Jr., and the two married in 1948.
Shortly thereafter, the Fords moved to Washington, DC, where Mr. Ford served as a member of the House of Representatives and Mrs. Ford assumed the duties of a congressional spouse. Mr. & Mrs. Ford became the parents of four children, with Mrs. Ford staying at home to care for them.
In 1973, Gerald Ford was appointed Vice President of the United States. One year later, upon the resignation of President Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal, Ford became the 38th President of the United States and Mrs. Ford became the First Lady. A few months later, Mrs. Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy. Rather than suppressing the diagnosis, she courageously shared her story and inspired countless women across the nation to get breast examinations. During her tenure as First Lady, Mrs. Ford continued to be an outspoken advocate of women’s rights, addressing public issues like the ERA and increasing the number of women appointed to senior government posts
After leaving the White House in 1977, the Fords settled in Rancho Mirage, California. A year later, the family staged an intervention, forcing Mrs. Ford to face both her alcoholism and an addition to painkillers that had been described to her in the early 1960s. In 1982, following her recovery, she co-founded the Betty Ford Center to treat victims of alcohol and chemical dependency
I love that.
For many of us (myself included), substance abuse would definitely be something that we’d try to hide. Something we’d put in a dark corner somewhere along with life’s other embarrassing moments – far away from polite company. But, not Mrs. Ford. Not only did she have the humility to own up to her mistake, but she shared it continuously with others in an effort to help. And, for that alone, she will always be an inspiration to me. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade.
What do you think of Betty Ford? Inspirational or not? Are there other moments in her life that you find more inspirational? Let me know what you think. Sound off in the comments.