RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif.—Former First Lady of the United States Betty Ford has died at the age of 93. She was born as Elizabeth Anne Bloomer in Chicago on April 8, 1918, but was raised in Grand Rapids, Mich. Ford died at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Ford’s husband, former President Gerald Ford, died in 2006. The two shared a beautiful family, home and life together. The Ford compound is the former home of MGM dancing and acting legend Ginger Rogers’s mother, who became a legendary acting teacher in Hollywood. Betty Ford epitomized class without carrying fancy handbags and getting weekly manicures, and she at no time engaged in gossipy banter or unkind words about her successors or predecessors. Through great personal challenges she raised beautiful, loving kids who never exposed their family’s inner secrets and without rhetoric but by her own examples she brought great dignity and respect to the plight of alcoholism and other addictions.
I had the opportunity of not only meeting Betty Ford, but of knowing her for almost 35 years. She was such a great lady, such a wonderful first lady for our nation, and many believe that had her husband won his bid for the White House in 1976, that perhaps our nation would have been ushered into more of a service to others type of nation, and not into narcissism and where we ultimately have come. Betty Ford struggled with addiction to alcohol and prescription medication. She also won the battle by coming forward and talking about it, which showed Americans and people around the world that it was nothing to be ashamed of; that if it could happen to her it could happen to any family.
Ford was a pioneer in addiction therapy and made the Betty Ford Rehabilitation Clinic a facility on the forefront of fighting addiction and not a posh fat-farm for fallen starlets, who sought a place to hide for a few weeks or months before going back to their careers. Ford opened her facility to some of the most poverty-stricken Americans who could not afford alcohol and drug treatment. She wanted to touch every person in our nation who needed help, and she was never a snobbish or elitist individual. Whereas many ladies of stature seek out the word “classy.” She lived it, it was part of who she was, not what she wanted to portray to the world. There was not a pretentious bone in this great lady’s body. She was filled with sincerity, as was her late husband President Ford. In fact, Betty Ford’s work goes on. Her facility still exists and its helping countless women and men who need help fighting addiction.
Ford never sought the spotlight once her husband’s political career ended. Even after his death in 2006, there were no tearful, staged productions for the world to see her inner grief. She came from the “old school” of ladies. She believed that unless she could help others by talking about her inner addiction issues, that her private life should remain that way. Her children maintained their love and devotion to her and her late husband long after leaving the White House. They are the epitome of the all American family, without belittling America’s eclectic and multi-cultural society. When I became friends with her youngest son, Steven, who played Andy Richards for years on Bill Bell’s hit series “The Young and the Restless,” I remembered feeling that his dad was the John Wayne of American politicians, and his mother was Betsy Ross-like, however; they unlike no other political family embraced those of us who have mixed heritage and are multi-racial.
Ford was stunned and saddened by the past three years of our nation’s political discourse or rather our lack of discourse. The fact is that neither she nor her husband would have ever engaged in the harassment-like mentality of the current Republican Party that exists today. Isn’t it amazing that I got through over half of this commemoration without even mentioning that her husband was republican? It was how they lived. They were inclusive and believed that party affiliation should come after being an American first.
The family of President and Mrs. Gerald R. Ford issued the following statement just hours after she died: “It is with great sadness that we inform you that our beloved mother Betty Ford has passed away at 93 years of age. She died peacefully today at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California. Mother’s love, candor, devotion, and laughter enriched our lives and the lives of the millions she touched throughout this great nation. To be in her presence was to know the warmth of a truly great lady. Mother’s passing leaves a deep void, but it also fills us with immeasurable appreciation for the life we and Dad shared with her.”
She is survived by her children, Susan Ford Bales, Steven Meigs Ford, John Gardner Ford and Michael Gerald Ford.
Funeral details for Mrs. Betty Ford, wife of the 38th President of the United States Gerald R. Ford, will be provided to both the media and the public and will be posted on BettyFordMemorial.com as information becomes available. For those considering sending flowers or making a contribution in honor of Mrs. Ford, her family has requested that contributions and donations in lieu of flowers be made to the organizations found on the Contributions page of the Betty Ford Memorial website. To send a message of condolence to the Ford family, please see the Condolence Book page of the Betty Ford Memorial website.
Betty Ford touched many lives. Though I personally have never had an alcohol or drug addiction, she did teach me by example, that it is important not to judge others, but to live by example. Perhaps America can learn from this incredible lady, who spoke infrequently, but helped more people than most of us will ever meet in our own lives.
Good night, Mrs. Ford. America should not grieve your loss, but live by your example.
Photographs are Courtesy: Ford Family