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Betty Ford: 1918-2011

July 10, 2011 - Joselyn King
She served as first lady for less than three years, but former first lady Betty Ford made the most of that time. In fact, her legacy is likely greater than that of her husband's, former President Gerald Ford.

I was not yet in kindergarten when she moved into the White House -- so it just made perfect sense to me that the woman on the television screen spoke strongly, and seemingly with great thought. Didn't all first ladies speak their mind? Didn't all women? I assumed.

Evidently, that wasn't the case. At a time following Watergate when most Americans mistrusted a federal government full of secrets, the new first lady was open with her soul.

The cameras were present as she recooperated from a mastectomy, and her hope was that other women might see in her the courage to have themselves checked for cancer.

She called for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and supported abortion rights -- well against the policies of her husband's administration.

It didn't matter. She spoke up. Her intent was that someone might benefit.

And her husband did, in many ways. She brought him support from demographics in the 1976 that might not otherwise have voted to elect a President Ford. Of course, she probably angered the key Republican base at the same time.

When Gerald Ford lost both his voice and the presidency in the general election, it was Betty who presented his concession speech.

Didn't all first ladies do this?

In the years after Washington, Betty Ford battled her own demons with alcohol and prescription drug dependency. She got help to overcome these, and believed others should get the same opportunity.

Rather than struggling in private, many now go to the Betty Ford Clinic and other similar drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers throughout the nation.

She believed someone should benefit from her tribulations. Don't all first ladies? Doesn't everyone?


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