RIP: Betty Ford, 1918-2011


Former First Lady Betty Ford died yesterday at the age of 93.

Aside from her life as late President Gerald Ford's wife of 58 years, Mrs. Ford will also be remembered for breaking Republican ranks to back the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion rights for women and for her public battle against breast cancer, as well as alcohol and prescription drug addiction.

That addiction led Mrs. Ford to open the world-renowned Betty Ford Clinic.

Those who knew her personally, however, will also remember her casual approach to White House living and keen, mischievous sense of humor.

From the New York Times' obituary:

Mrs. Ford brought a relaxed touch to the White House within days of moving in. She asked why the staff never returned a greeting and was told that President Nixon and the first lady, Pat Nixon, had preferred them to be as silent and invisible as possible. An immediate change went into effect, to the degree that during family meals the president and the butler compared golf scores. And when Mrs. Ford returned from her mastectomy, the staff lined up with signs reading, “We love you, Betty.”

She disliked other manifestations of Mrs. Nixon’s formal tastes, particularly the choice of stiff furniture, which had replaced the more comfortable Kennedy ambience from the early ’60s. Although she left the décor as it was, she could not resist a bit of deviltry. A ceramic bowl in the Yellow Oval Room was supported by two Greek goddesses, one of them with her hands out. “Every time I went through,” Mrs. Ford said, “I used to put a cigarette between her fingers.”

A progressive social warrior who knows how to laugh? That's rare in Republican circles these days.

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  1. Thank you, Betty Ford, for your courage, your humanity, and for showing us how to turn a weakness into a strength. A great woman!

    Posted by: Jim | Jul 9, 2011 9:35:47 AM

  2. I always liked this woman. She was not a puppet for her husband and he was a better man (and president) for it.

    Posted by: John | Jul 9, 2011 9:50:03 AM

  3. She set the bar VERY high. Can't think of any subsequent First Lady who has come up to it.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jul 9, 2011 9:53:38 AM

  4. The only time I ever voted Republican for President was in 1976, when Gerald Ford -- whom I admired very much -- was running against Jimmy Carter. It was partly because I thought so very highly of Mrs. Ford. The two of them were just what the country needed at the time. Three good looking sons, too.

    Posted by: jpeckjr | Jul 9, 2011 10:31:11 AM

  5. What a brave woman she was! RIP.

    Posted by: Matt26 | Jul 9, 2011 10:33:32 AM

  6. Betty Ford had a great sense of humor, a great sense of equality, and great sense for the truth. For only being in the White House two and one-half years, she made a lasting impression far beyond some other First Ladies who had longer tenures. She is an icon to the American Spirit. RIP, Mrs. Betty Ford.

    Posted by: Matt Ford | Jul 9, 2011 10:48:16 AM

  7. A woman of conviction,generosity,compassion and humor, she will be remembered.

    Posted by: PLAINTOM | Jul 9, 2011 10:59:12 AM

  8. She opens a rehab center for drunks and drug users and now she is St. Betty. The woman was ahead of her time. Now people using these facilities do it for the trendiness factor. I assume enough people were helped. She is not a person to sanctify. Much said about this alleged deity.

    Posted by: Zach | Jul 9, 2011 11:05:20 AM

  9. I do not like to speak ill of those who have passed but I think it is wrong to deify someone. IMHO.

    Posted by: Zach | Jul 9, 2011 11:08:19 AM

  10. This reminds me of a time when reasonable mainstream Republicans existed. It's been all downhill since the Fords.

    Posted by: David | Jul 9, 2011 11:32:04 AM

  11. How old are you Zach? I'm guessing you aren't old enough to remember when CANCER was a dirty word. For whatever weird reason, people avoided talking about it, obituaries didn't mention it. Cancers affecting women were especially kept quiet, and many women died because they didn't know the warning symptoms, didn't know how to detect breast cancer, or were too afraid to go to the doctor. Betty Ford and Happy Rockefeller were the two women who changed that. It is probable that hundreds of thousands of women have lived longer because these two women publicized their breast cancer.

    Not worth deifying? What have you done to help out humanity, besides leaving bitter comments?

    Posted by: homer | Jul 9, 2011 12:52:20 PM

  12. @Zach Not for nothing, she got her Republican president husband to support the Equal Rights Act, she publicly supported women's choice in abortion, both she (and Gerald Ford) were pro-LGBT rights....and on and on. In the mid 1970s she was, what we would call today, a progressive on many issues. And she used her public position, which she did not enjoy, to do good.

    There would be far fewer advances in the fight against breast cancer, and therefore cancer in general, if she had not broken a taboo and talked openly about her battle. Back then, society frowned viciously upon women who talked about their breasts, even if it was just breast health. For those of us whose families have been affected by breast cancer, she may not be a "god" (as the word "deify" implies), but she was certainly a gigantic hero. And even if you have not been affected by breast cancer, her using her position to discuss her breast health was a blow to misogynists (yes, the same ones who are homophobes), to shame-mongers, and to the prudish conservatism that held, and continues to hold, our society from advancement.

    Let's just set aside what she did for the fight against alcohol addiction by going public with her own addiction.

    I don't think what people are doing upon hearing the news of her death is called "deification." It's called "a tribute to a life admirably lived."

    (PS what have YOU done with your life, besides nit-pick and use words incorrectly?)

    Posted by: Andalusian Dog | Jul 9, 2011 12:55:14 PM

  13. The Fords were the last of a dying breed: the moderate Republican. RIP Betty, you were a true original.

    Posted by: ralph | Jul 9, 2011 1:12:34 PM

  14. Thank you Andalusian Dog for your intelligent defense of the praising of Betty Ford.

    Posted by: trees | Jul 9, 2011 1:20:58 PM

  15. What Betty Ford had - which so many other political people of any political persuasion don't have - is that she was human and fun. She experienced the some of the worst things that can happen to a human being, but she didn't give up on human beings as being better than their failings. A wonderful woman. A proper, grown-up, civilised member of the human race who wanted to make life better for other people. By no stretch of the imagination was she perfect. And that's why she was so wonderful: she never expected anyone else to be perfect, either. She was a great, great, great woman.

    Posted by: Dazzer | Jul 9, 2011 5:40:22 PM

  16. The Ford's always struck me as the most 'normal' and down to Earth of presidents and presidential families. I remember seeing a picture as a kid of Jerry Ford the morning after becoming president [this would have been 10 years after the fact] . He and Betty where still living in their suburban DC [Bethesda, MD I think] home, a simple, middle class colonial. And their kids appear to have turned out the opposite of children of other presidents, many of whom are useless scrubs.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Jul 9, 2011 11:21:39 PM

  17. She made news by telling an interviewer that she and her husband slept in the same bed. For those of use who lived through Richard Nixon's so-called 'Imperial Presidency', the Fords were a breath of fresh air. I voted for Carter in 1976 but said at the time that if Betty Ford had been running instead of Gerald Ford, I would've voted for her.

    Posted by: Paul | Jul 10, 2011 9:52:31 PM

  18. "When in doubt, sing the national anthem." (My undying love to anyone who understands that Betty Ford reference/joke.)

    God bless, Bet-TAY. :) Great first lady, and in the truest sense of the word, a "great dame."

    Posted by: Dback | Jul 10, 2011 11:29:36 PM

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