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Remembering Mom and Dad
If President Gerald Ford, a former house minority leader and the man who pardoned President Richard Nixon after Watergate, were alive today, his daughter says he would probably tell Americans, “People need to learn to get along and work for the best of our country. Bipartisanship does exist and can work.”
Susan Ford Bales says there were relationships across the aisle during her father’s tenure in Washington, D.C.
“People need to learn to disagree without being disagreeable,” Bales says. “You could look at my dad’s relationship with Tip O’Neill (speaker of the house from 1977-87). Carl Albert [speaker of the house from 1971-77]was one of the people who told President Nixon, ‘Gerry Ford is the person you’re going to get, through the House and Senate, as vice president.’ President Nixon had other people in mind. Carl was from the other side of the fence but he had worked with my dad for years.” Ford became vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned, following the Watergate investigation.
Bales, 59, was in the desert late January to speak about her parents at the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival. The Fords made Rancho Mirage their home during their post–White House years, and Bales will reflect on those times during a second presentation, “President Gerald and Betty Ford: Their Lives & Legacies,” March 6 at the Annenberg Center for Health Sciences at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage. Her talk is part of a JFS of the Desert series, Desert Icons, hosted by Patrick Evans of CBS Local 2, following a 6 p.m. VIP reception.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SUSAN FORD BALES
Susan Ford Bales says her mother would have supported the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. in January: “She would have reminded women why they should feel empowered to express their views, no matter what the political way is…”
Bales says Rancho Mirage was the perfect place for her dad to enjoy golf and for her mom to relieve her arthritis pain. Her parents stayed here until their deaths in 2006 and 2011, respectively.
“My parents had been going to the desert for many years on vacation before they lived there,” Bales says. “Mother could go shopping and not be bothered by people. They could go to restaurants and people would let them eat in peace. They were supporters of many things in the desert: Betty Ford Center, Rancho Mirage Library, McCallum Theatre, and many events.” The Fords also had a home in Colorado.
The former first lady co-founded the Betty Ford Center for the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction after her daughter led a family intervention. Bales recalls her mother’s pill and alcohol problems had increased while her dad was out of town on the speaking circuit during retirement. The nonprofit has since merged with another national pioneering organization to become the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, for which Bales serves as a board member.
Betty Ford inspired a nation of women when she went public after surviving breast cancer with details about her addiction and recovery. She and Gerald Ford helped launch National Breast Cancer Awareness Week in 1984. Bales says her own upcoming talk will look at the “highlights and lowlights” of her parents’ journey. Her mother was an outspoken advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and for abortion rights. If Betty Ford were here today, she would encourage women to continue to pursue equality, says Bales, noting that one of her own daughters attended a rally the weekend after President Trump’s inauguration.
“Mother would have cheered on the women, especially as long as they were in a peaceful manner,” she says. “She would have reminded women why they should feel empowered to express their views, no matter what the political way is, Republican or Democrat or Independent or whatever. If you look at health care for example, it’s divided into two different things — before Betty and after Betty — because of what she and Rosalynn Carter did for health care. They went up on the Hill to lobby [for legislation] so that depression and alcoholism would get covered under insurance.”
Bales says the Carters were some of her parents best friends, along with President George and Barbara Bush, whom they had known for many years before Ford became president in 1974.
Following Nixon’s resignation, Ford said in his presidential inauguration, “This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.” President Carter honored Ford in his own inauguration speech in 1977 by thanking him for “healing our land.” Bales says her dad cherished that moment for the rest of his life. She says Carter’s mention of her father in his opening remarks “is a shining example of what many politicians today should look at … look at that relationship.”
Bales, a former author and photojournalist, says being a president’s daughter caused her to “hate politics. … I have no desire to run for office,” she says. “I feel responsible to vote but politics itself is not my cup of tea.”
She is focused instead on the commissioning of the $13 billion supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford this year. Bales says the ship was “a really important project for my dad. He found out about it six weeks before he died. He was very glad. He was a humble man and never expected things like that, so it meant a lot. I’ll be very proud to get her into the fleet, helping support America. Then I’ll continue with the Betty Ford Center and Hazelden and supporting breast cancer awareness.”
Professor Bettye Caldwell Dies Was Champion for Children’s Care
Retired professor of child and family studies Bettye Caldwell passed away on April 17. Her work in the 1960s at the Children’s Center of Syracuse provided the foundation for what became one of the most important components of the Great Society programs known today as Head Start.
Professor Caldwell, who chaired the Department of Child and Family Studies, worked for more than five decades in comprehensive early childhood development programming, primarily serving low-income preschool-age children and their families. During this time, she worked closely with Julius Richmond, then-chairman of pediatrics at Upstate University. In 1967, they formed the Children’s Center in Syracuse, the first early intervention program in the country. At that time, it was forbidden in New York State to care for infants in groups. Caldwell’s advocacy resulted in a special waiver that paved the way for creation of the Children’s Center.
Receiving huge national interest, the center—operating from an old house on East Adams Street—had more than 1,000 visitors in its first year, including Eunice Shriver. Caldwell credited these national figures with drawing attention to the program and helping it survive in the early years.
“Dr. Bettye Caldwell was a true pioneer in her field. Syracuse University is so very proud of her lifetime dedication focused on putting the best interests of children first, and providing countless individuals and families the tools they needed to do the same,” says Diane Lyden Murphy, dean of Falk College. “We are forever grateful that her commitment touched our campus and community so deeply in the time she and her family spent in Syracuse.”
In 1969, Caldwell relocated with her family and served on the faculty of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock for many years. In Little Rock, she established the early education project at Kramer School for young children through age 12. “Bettye thoughtfully and deliberately created an infant center in the school so that young students in different grades and classes could visit and learn nurturing ways with babies and well-trained caregivers who were available right in their own school building,” reflects former graduate student of Professor Caldwell and now professor emerita of child and family studies in Falk College Alice Sterling Honig.
In an interview in 2014, Professor Caldwell noted, “I met Alice Honig professionally in 1963, when I had my first major research grant, ‘Infant Learning and Patterns of Family Care.’ The grant had one position for a research assistant, and I hired Alice. It is with great happiness and pride that I claim that her experience on this early research project helped prepare her for her own independent and self-initiated research in the years that followed.”
While they worked together at Syracuse University, Caldwell and Honig found little documentation was available to plan curriculum that would help children thrive. “Bettye and I and others would meet at night back at the center, after putting our children to bed (and getting babysitters), to hammer out what we thought theorists would want us to do to help the littlest ones flourish,” recalls Honig. “We’d ask ourselves, how would the theoretical writings of Erikson and Piaget translate into practice and programmatic interactions? We truly felt like pioneers.”
Caldwell led a team of psychologists and psychiatrists to China, which included Honig, that was the very first such group after the Cultural Revolution to be allowed by Mao Tse Tung to visit child care centers and children’s hospitals. With a reputation and scope of influence that was global, Caldwell received many awards throughout her career, including the 1978 Ladies Home Journal Woman of the Year for which she was honored at a ceremony joined by Betty Furness, Maya Angelou, Kate Smith and Betty Ford.
In September 2014, a generous gift from Professor Caldwell created the Dr. Alice Sterling Honig Endowed Scholarship Fund to benefit students majoring in child and family studies at Syracuse University. “Thanks to her visionary generosity, students of the future will have the opportunity to build upon Dr. Caldwell’s innovative work that is such a critical part of both Falk College history and national social programs in early childhood intervention,” adds Dean Murphy. For more information on making a gift to the scholarship created by Professor Caldwell, contact the Falk College Office of Advancement at 315-443-8989.
Warning Signs: How to Identify a High-Functioning Alcoholic
Just because someone is able to function at work or in life despite their dependence on alcohol does not mean that they are immune to its effects. Here are some signs that could indicate someone is a high-functioning alcoholic:
They need alcohol to feel confident.
Often high-functioning alcoholics feel “locked in” to their drinking because they worry that when the alcohol stops, so will their success.
“I used to think that drinking would help my shyness, but all it did was exaggerate all the negative qualities. The drinking and the pills just sort of dulled my natural enthusiasm.” –Elizabeth Taylor
They joke that they have an alcohol problem.
They don’t take their alcohol dependence seriously or believe that they still have complete control on it.
“Do you drink?” “Of course, I just said I was a writer.” –Stephen King
They don’t seem to get hangovers anymore.
Developing a tolerance for alcohol can, in turn, convince them that their drinking is not a problem because they are not feeling its effects.
“Because I could handle my drinking – or so I thought – and could consume a lot of alcohol without becoming uncontrollably inebriated, I refused to see it as a problem.” –Buzz Aldrin
They drink alone.
Drinking is not a social activity for them it is a solitary pastime.
“I like to drink alone. I never get ugly when I drink too much, I never bore myself with a lot of dull conversation, and I have never yet invited myself to step outside.” –Stephen King
They replace meals with alcohol.
Mealtimes are often an excuse for the high-functioning alcoholic to start drinking. They may even forego food altogether.
“I would as soon not eat at night as not to have red wine and water.” –Ernest Hemingway
They become a different person when they drink.
Social drinkers do not dramatically change their personality when they drink. Alcoholics, however, behave quite uncharacteristically.
“The minute we finished the last shot I would have a drink. Then it became a series of drinks, little by little. Before I knew it I was drinking more and more because my addictive personality was taking over.” –Leonard Nimoy
They become hostile or argumentative when they can’t drink.
Alcoholics often suffer withdrawal symptoms if they are forced to stay sober or are cut off from their alcohol supply.
“I knew I was an alcoholic because I was preoccupied with whether alcohol was going to be served or not.” –Betty Ford
They can’t stop at one drink.
They have trouble letting alcohol “go to waste” and may finish friends’ drinks for them. They have trouble setting a limit on their drinking.
“I ain’t the kind of guy who can have one drink. I never could. That’s what I have to remember. I never had one drink in my whole life.” –Samuel L. Jackson
They hide their alcohol.
They keep their alcohol stashed in a secret location where their friends and family won’t find it, like in their desk or car.
“I left his office, went around the corner, and at the first liquor store I found, I bought a bottle of Scotch. I couldn’t even wait until I got home. I swilled several swigs before pulling out of the parking lot.” –Buzz Aldrin
They black out regularly.
It isn’t unusual for them to be unable to recall what happened while they were drinking.
“The turning point came when my family found me passed out on the kitchen floor. I guess I wanted to get caught.” –Samuel L. Jackson
Recognize these warning signs in yourself or a loved one? Reach out for help. It’s not too late.
Chris Clancy is the in-house Content Manager for JourneyPure’s Digital Marketing team, where he gets to explore a wide variety of substance abuse- and mental health-related topics. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist and researcher, with strong working knowledge of hospital systems, health insurance, content strategy, and public relations. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two kids.
What ‘Intervention’ Taught America About Addiction
For a recovering drug addict like me, among the most entertaining quarantine binges has been white-knuckling my way through 20 seasons of Intervention , the long-running A&E reality show about addicts whose family members step in with an ultimatum to get treatment — or else lose everything.
But bingeing Intervention these days has also made me reflect on how clueless America was about addiction in 2005, the year the series debuted. Take “ Dana ” (Season Thirteen, Episode Two), for example, declared by fans to be the “saddest” episode ever (an apartment fire had killed three of her children). It’s obvious to me now — having spent the last eight years in 12-step meetings listening to people try to make sense of their addictions, as well as the fact that today trauma is widely understood to be a leading cause of addiction — why Dana was instantly hooked on the Vicodin prescribed to treat the pain of her own third-degrees burns. “I needed something to calm me down from the terrifying flashbacks of the fire,” she tells me now, explaining the Vicodin removed “the heaviness on my chest and shoulders.”
Yet, back when Dana’s episode first aired, Candy Finnigan , the interventionist, had to scold Dana’s brother for classifying her addiction as a moral failure. “If we don’t treat the trauma, we’re never gonna be able to get her back whole,” Finnigan explains with the compassion of a kindergarten teacher.
And just like that, America was offered a master class on the worthiness of compassion when treating addiction, despite its connection to trauma not being scientifically recognized for seven more years.
At the time, Americans remained woefully naive to the true nature of addiction, a consequence of 200 years of misunderstanding the disease (or that it even was one). Opiate addicts in the 1800s were almost exclusively characterized in the press as people of color, even though a large segment of white people were addicted as well. By the 1960s, substance abuse treatment centers often forced applicants to sit quietly for hours before intake interviews, at which they were required to admit being “stupid.” And after zero-tolerance campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s (the “ War on Drugs ,” “ Just Say No ,” etc.), the focus on a “solution” to chemical dependency shifted from treatment to criminalization. Underlying throughout was a not-so-subtle religious suggestion that addiction is a moral failing and venial sin .
All of which is to say, most American’s familiarity with interventions in the early aughts was limited to the fourth season of The Sopranos , in which the family urges Christopher to get treatment for heroin addiction (and devolves into them beating the crap out of him instead). “People believed an intervention was a big F you to your loved one,” Intervention creator Sam Mettler tells me. “No, it’s an offer of treatment, and if someone refuses, a decision of whether the family wants to be part of the illness or not.”
The use of interventions originated in the 1960s, when Vernon Johnson , an Episcopal minister, urged family members of addicts to “bring the bottom to them” in order to save their lives. Those who would be seated in the first two pews of the funeral should lead the intervention, Johnson explained.
It’s surprising, then, that such a dark concept for such a TV show was the brainchild of Mettler, a fledgling comedy writer in the early aughts whose credits included “Maintenance Guy” on the ABC sitcom Norm . He says he’d been aware of interventions previously, but the term really came to him in 2001 as an off-handed joke about his father. “My dad would wear way too much cologne,” Mettler says. “He’d pick up my baby son, and we’d have to give him a bath when we got home because he smelled like my dad. I called my sister and said, ‘We’ve got to do an intervention on dad about the cologne. It’s getting ridiculous.’ That’s how the word got to my brain.”
At the time, Mettler was working on a docuseries concept for MTV that wasn’t going anywhere. So he pivoted to the idea for Intervention instead. “I wanted to find interesting people who already had lives that were dramatic, with high stakes, and have them take us through their lives without interfering with them whatsoever. I roughly knew what an intervention was, but my preconceived notion was it being a much higher conflict negotiation than the gift it actually is — a gift of life, a gift of treatment, a gift of an answer.”
He pitched the concept to MTV in 2001, and was scheduled to fly to New York to begin developing the show on September 12, 2001. Of course, he never went. It was determined that the country had endured enough heartache on 9/11 and wasn’t yet ready for a show about substance abuse. The idea sat on Mettler’s computer for three more years, before he eventually pitched it directly to A&E, who loved the concept.
In the fall of 2004, he recruited Orange County-based Jeff VanVonderen , a former pastor, recovering alcoholic and interventionist trained in a confrontational style of rehabilitation, to do an on-camera audition. VanVonderen tells me he thought the show would never work because he’d been working with addicts for years and didn’t know any who’d want cameras following them through the darkest moments of their lives.
Nevertheless, Mettler asked him to conduct a role-play intervention. VanVonderen instructed a PA (who was playing the role of the addict) to leave the room so he could address the family. He went to a white board and began conducting intervention training for the “family” in the room. “I wanted A&E to clearly see,” he explains. “Because people had no idea what an intervention even was. They just thought of the Sopranos beating up Christopher, or Cartman forced to go to a fat camp on South Park . They just didn’t get it.”
A&E ordered a pilot, so long as VanVonderen would be in it. And while the small-town Wisconsin pastor never aspired to be on TV, he said yes anyway. “I pictured a mom and dad sitting on the sofa having been through a crisis with their methamphetamine-addicted son or daughter, hoping they could get their attention before they killed themselves. But then they stumble on Intervention and realize there’s one more thing they can try.
After the show was picked up in 2005, Mettler started looking for a female counterpart for VanVonderen to round out the show. “Betty Ford had a list of their preferred interventionists and I just started calling them,” he explains. Finnigan , a recovering alcoholic from Kansas City, was at the top of the list, but producers worried she looked “too old.” “I got a call the day after I did the mock intervention,” Finnigan tells me. “They said, ‘We didn’t realize you were that old.’ I said you can’t be 17 and sing the blues. If you want somebody who’s 5-foot-10 with big tits and blonde hair, I ain’t it.”
The dramatic scenes of the addict spiraling out of control leading up to the intervention were shot on handheld cameras by field producers like Jeffrey Weaver , who later served as an executive producer on the show. Intervention ’s goal from the start, Weaver explains, was to interact with subjects as human beings first: “We felt like seeing things from the side of the person struggling was important.” As such, Weaver immersed himself with subjects for weeks at a time, often sleeping on their couches or floors. The non-stop documentation meant he not only felt responsible for telling their story, but also for ensuring their wellbeing.
To that end, he recalls standing in a bathroom with a heroin addict who had just shot up, a camera in one hand and his phone in the other. “I would dial 911 and keep my thumb on the send button in case the person were to overdose,” he tells me. “We were very dedicated to documenting what our subjects lives really were, not fabricating them, not altering them, not trying to create some hyperbolic version of their experience. These were stories that hadn’t surfaced in popular culture, and we were committed to the idea that if we could share these stories on a significant platform like A&E, it would be a game changer in the public conversation of addiction.”
That said, some critics have found the transparency-at-all cost premise of Intervention to be problematic, particularly since the addict never sees the confrontation coming. Season 20 centered on Philadelphia’s opioid crisis, but was panned by addiction advocates like Brooke Feldman, who felt the show “sensationalizes what is really a health condition.” Weaver, however, rejects that criticism: “Our focus was always on making sure addicts had a path to recovery, and everything that we did to document that journey was geared toward giving subjects access to that help.”
More largely, people are now questioning the efficacy of interventions altogether, suggesting instead that motivational interviewing , a cognitive behavior therapy designed to strengthen one’s motivation to change, to be less combative and more effective.
Still, Season 22 of Intervention is poised to premiere this spring, though A&E has yet to reveal any information about its release, or whether it will continue to be dominated by one addiction. Nearly all of the most recent episodes have focused on the opiate crisis, and the last non-substance addiction — e.g., exercise, bulimia, gambling, shopping — featured was in 2013.
Either way, I will be forever grateful for the show. As I viewer obviously, but most of all, as a recovering addict, for helping America confront its own drug problem.
C. Brian Smith
C. Brian Smith writes hard-hitting gonzo features for MEL, whether it be training with a masturbation coach, receiving psycho corporal treatment from a spank therapist, or embarking on a week-long pleasure cruise with 75 Santa Clauses following their busy season.
Betty Ford’s Intervention
L ooking around her living room that spring morning former First Lady Betty Ford, like most hard-drinking junkies, didn&rsquot quite get it.
&ldquoMy makeup wasn&rsquot smeared, I wasn&rsquot disheveled, I behaved politely, and I never finished off a bottle, so how could I be an alcoholic?&rdquo she recalled years later. &ldquoAnd I wasn&rsquot on heroin or cocaine. The medicines I took &mdash the sleeping pills, the pain pills, the relaxer pills, the pills to counteract the side effects of other pills &mdash had been prescribed by doctors, so how could I be a drug addict?&rdquo One medical professional in the room that day remembers that Ford &ldquolooked small, almost like a doll, lost in the [sofa] cushions, and as her husband made his opening remarks, you could see the confusion on her face.&rdquo
Ford was still in her bathrobe as, one by one, her husband and children told her the truth. Former President Gerald R. Ford lamented the slurring of her speech. Son Mike and his wife Gayle raised the possibility that she wouldn&rsquot live long enough to ever know the children they intended to have. Son Steve recounted the day he and his girlfriend prepared an elaborate dinner for her, only to have her ignore their efforts as she watched TV and slid into an alcoholic haze. Son Jack said he &ldquowas always kind of peeking around the corner into the family room to see what kind of shape mother was in.&rdquo Daughter Susan, who had rallied the family to confront its matriarch, broke down as she explained how she had always admired her mother&rsquos grace as a Martha Graham-trained dancer and couldn&rsquot stand to see her &ldquofalling and clumsy.&rdquo
The Ford family intervention didn&rsquot take long that morning of April 1, 1978, but it began a series of events that profoundly changed Betty Ford&rsquos life and much more. She agreed to undergo a week of medically supervised detoxification &mdash during which she was weaned from alcohol, Librium, and what she later described as &ldquogourmet medications&rdquo &mdash at her brand-new Rancho Mirage home. Then, the day after her 60th birthday, Ford was driven two hours to the Navy hospital in Long Beach to learn the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Suddenly the term &ldquopublic drunkenness&rdquo took on a whole new meaning.
After settling into a standard room with three roommates, Ford released a statement that, without apology, described her intention to overcome her &ldquoinsidious&rdquo addictions.
B y making hers a public rather than a private struggle, straight-talking Betty Ford transformed the image of a drug-abusing alcoholic from a nameless, faceless loser into a noble and likable survivor. She helped diminish the stigma long associated with addiction and treatment, especially for women.
The grim surprise party that started her down that road also spawned a recovery movement that Ford never could have imagined, a national conversation in which troubled souls seemed willing, even eager, to make a cathartic public confession or act of contrition. In the decades that followed, it became hard to turn on a television talk show without hearing survivors&rsquo tales about overcoming everything from incest, gender confusion, compulsive eating disorder, and bulimia to sexual addiction, co-dependence, rape, even alien abduction and satanic possession.
T o understand why Betty Ford&rsquos intervention had such impact, it&rsquos important to understand her unexpected role in what&rsquos known as the &ldquomodern alcoholism movement,&rdquo which began in 1935 when two men &mdash a New York stockbroker (Bill W.) and an Akron, Ohio, surgeon (Dr. Bob S.) &mdash pioneered a method of dealing quietly and anonymously with addiction by creating Alcoholics Anonymous and preaching the 12-step gospel that has changed countless apostles. Back then and into the 1960s, no one knew quite what to do with drunks and junkies. Some steered them into mutual-aid societies such as A.A., or simply watched them medicate themselves to death. Others dispatched their substance abusers to sanitariums for rounds of detox. Still others subjected substance abusers to experimental behavior-modification treatments, including hypnosis, electroshock therapy, and methadone treatment.
In 1970, the federal Hughes Act officially recognized drug and alcohol addiction as a disease, setting the stage for what eventually became a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry of specialty treatment centers, court-ordered compliance, and sophisticated marketing. Even so, there remained a social stigma.
Betty Ford in 1978 didn&rsquot fit neatly into any of the public&rsquos stereotypes of a drunk or a drug addict. She was a very clean, very polite, very successful substance abuser &mdash someone admired rather than reviled.
Indeed, she left the White House in January 1977 as the most popular First Lady since Jackie Kennedy. She had entered the international spotlight in a buttoned-down era when the prototypical Republican wife was a lacquer-haired deaf-mute with the adoring eyes of an acolyte. (Can you describe Pat Nixon&rsquos voice? Didn&rsquot think so.) Born in Chicago and raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., Ford brought to Washington a Midwesterner&rsquos tendency to honestly answer any question. This is not a custom in Washington, D.C., where one of Ford&rsquos early exchanges with the White House press corps signaled an era of often refreshing honesty in the nation&rsquos capitol.
&ldquoWhy didn&rsquot you tell us?&rdquo a reporter once scolded after learning that Mrs. Gerald Ford had once been Mrs. Bill Warren.
&ldquoYou never asked,&rdquo she replied.
One of Ford&rsquos first unofficial actions as First Lady was to publicly declare her intention to sleep not only in the same White House bedroom as her husband, but in the same bed, thereby raising the possibility, technically, that sex could occur.
She&rsquod proudly declared her enthusiastic support for the Equal Rights Amendment for women &mdash a position not shared by her husband or his party &mdash and when her husband was vice president under Richard Nixon, she told Barbara Walters how pleased she was by the Supreme Court&rsquos 1972 Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion. President Ford&rsquos press secretary issued a statement declaring that Gerald Ford &ldquolong [ago] ceased to be perturbed by his wife&rsquos remarks.&rdquo
Ford also was aware of the positive public impact that her personal behavior could have. A month after moving into the White House, her doctors had found a malignant lump and were forced to remove her right breast. Ford immediately went public with the news and began a course of chemo-therapy in the public spotlight. Supportive mail poured in, and the American Cancer Society saw a spike in donations. &ldquoEven before I was able to get up, I lay in bed and watched television and saw on the news shows lines of women queued up to go in for breast examinations because of what had happened to me,&rdquo she later recalled. One of those women was Happy Rockefeller, wife of then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Turns out she had a lump, too, and had a similar operation a month after Ford&rsquos mastectomy. Her husband credited Ford&rsquos frank public disclosure with saving his wife&rsquos life.
A fter leaving the White House, Betty Ford hired ghostwriter Chris Chase and set to work on her autobiography, The Times of My Life. She and Jerry eventually retreated to Rancho Mirage, and by the spring of 1978, she was polishing the final chapters. Ford devoted early chapters to her unlikely rise to the pinnacle of power. In later chapters, she recounted the many moments when her candor had caught official Washington and much of the nation off-guard.
But nothing in Ford&rsquos nearly finished manuscript hinted at the most startling truth of all, one that not only would require a rushed final chapter for that book &mdash subtly titled &ldquoLong Beach&rdquo &mdash but an entirely new autobiography less than a decade later that dealt entirely with her battle against addiction. She had completely ignored her slide into a haze of cocktails and pain pills &mdash apparently the only Ford family member able to do so.
The intervention, back then, had not yet become one of the most controversial features of the recovery culture. The idea is based on the theory that the most effective way to compel someone with a problem to seek treatment is for the people closest to them, family and friends, to confront them with the truth about how the problem has affected their lives. Interventions represent a significant departure from the methods established by the founders of A.A., who favored a volunteer, rather than a confrontational, approach. This also was long before the horror stories of abuse in which well-intentioned parents essentially had their troubled children kidnapped and hauled off to tough-love treatment facilities.
Ford was no less skeptical that morning as her family gathered from around the country to confront her in a home still filled with moving boxes. But a week later, the former First Lady of the United States of America was taking meals in a basement cafeteria at the Navy base and sharing a room with three other women. One was an admiral&rsquos wife with a taste for Valium the other two were young, regular Navy. As word spread about Ford&rsquos treatment, the media began to portray addiction as a disease with no discernible demographic: the great equalizer.
&ldquoAfter I came into the hospital, it was as though a dam had burst,&rdquo Ford later recalled. &ldquoNewspapers and magazines poured in, filled with articles about women and drugs and alcohol. Bags of mail followed, and flowers, and messages sent by well-wishers.&rdquo
Two years after her intervention and public disclosure, on Oct. 9, 1981, Betty Ford helped break ground for an addiction treatment center at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage. She committed her fund- and consciousness-raising efforts to the cause and, reluctantly, lent her name and face to what has become the best-known facility of its kind in the world. The Betty Ford Center was dedicated one year later. One of the earliest to step forward for treatment was another of America&rsquos most influential women, actress Elizabeth Taylor. Her decision to disclose her struggle had nearly as much impact as Ford&rsquos in terms of destigmatizing alcohol and drug rehabilitation.
Taylor&rsquos treatment also added a touch of glamour to the Betty Ford Center and to treatment in general, paving the way for other celebrity substance abusers to talk about their addictions and treatment. A curious snowballing began. At the time, insurance laws made rehab centers a potential profit center for hospitals, and facilities began cropping up fast.
The language began to soften. &ldquoDrunks&rdquo and &ldquodrug fiends&rdquo became &ldquoalcoholics&rdquo and &ldquosubstance abusers.&rdquo The people around them became &ldquoenablers&rdquo and &ldquoco-dependents.&rdquo The culture began suspending harsh judgments and began looking to family histories and childhood traumas as a way to explain someone&rsquos addiction. Ford&rsquos treatment also was followed by what one addiction specialist calls a &ldquonew temperance movement.&rdquo Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded in 1980, the same year First Lady Nancy Reagan&rsquos &ldquoJust Say No!&rdquo slogan became the most memorable &mdash and ridiculed &mdash catchphrases of that decade. Warnings began to appear on beer, wine, and liquor labels, and anti-alcohol and drug programs became a staple of secondary and even elementary education.
More than 53,000 patients have sought help at Betty Ford Center since it opened. They have included homemakers, truck drivers, doctors, lawyers, athletes &mdash some nearly as famous as Ford and Taylor: baseball legends Mickey Mantle and Darryl Strawberry, football player Todd Marinovich, country music singer Tanya Tucker. The list reads like a Who&rsquos Who of the entertainment and sports worlds even though celebrities represent only a fraction of the center&rsquos clients.
But after all the talk, after decades of often dramatic self-exposure, there remains a bottom line: A government report suggests that of the estimated 13 million to 16 million Americans who need treatment for alcohol or drug problems in any given year, only 3 million actually receive it. And something else is happening that Ford could not have foreseen that day in 1978. While recovery has changed lives for the better, and while Ford&rsquos public struggle coaxed thousands of closeted addicts into the open and diminished the stigma of treatment, the lasting impact of all those public acts of contrition is hard to pin down. The snowball began to melt.
T he Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an arm of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, has designated September as National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month partly because of a &ldquorestigmatization&rdquo of substance abuse and addiction in recent years. That same agency notes the impact of critics who have raised concerns about whether substance abuse is a medical or a behavioral problem. The backlash is obvious from a search of the Amazon.com online book catalog, which contains titles such as Peele&rsquos Diseasing of America: How We Allowed Recovery Zealots and the Treatment Industry to Convince Us We Are Out of Control and I&rsquom Dysfunctional, You&rsquore Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions by Wendy Kaminer.
Spending on substance abuse treatment between 1987 and 1997 shifted heavily from private to public, meaning that fewer alcoholics and drug addicts in this age of managed care can count on insurance companies and other private payers to cover the cost of treatment.
&ldquoThree trends are evident since 1990,&rdquo wrote William L. White, author of Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America. &ldquoThe first is the restigmatization of severe and persistent alcohol and other drug problems. The images of First Ladies, next-door neighbors, and our own family members are being replaced with more demonized images that elicit fear and anger rather than compassion.&rdquo White said that trend, combined with the &ldquodemedicalization&rdquo of treatment and the &ldquorecriminalization&rdquo of addiction, now finds people like Betty Ford portrayed as &ldquoinfectious agent[s] of evil&rdquo and recovery as an exception rather than a rule.
White has called for a &ldquoNew Recovery Movement&rdquo in which &ldquoa vanguard of recovering people&hellipstep forward to offer themselves as living proof of the hope for sustained recovery from addiction&rdquo &mdash a seemingly radical departure from the A.A. philosophy. During a speech to a New Jersey recovery group several years ago, White wistfully recalled Ford&rsquos long-ago public confession as perhaps the best moment in the country&rsquos history to be an alcoholic.
From the book Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions, and Lore that Shaped Modern America by Martin J. Smith and Patrick J. Kiger.
Published by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
The Revolutionary Moment of First Lady Betty Ford: Her October 1975 Speech Still Makes History
With news of former First Lady Betty Ford's death at age 93, it is easy to simply recall her as the leader of the national movement for substance abuse recovery because of the famous southern California treatment center which bears her name. In fact, that was but one in a number of issues on behalf of which Mrs. Ford became a world-recognized trailblazer by simply being herself -- which is to say, speaking out honestly and rationally.
Although she was only in the White House from August 1974 to January of 1977, she made extraordinary good use of her time in that most visible of symbolic roles.
As First Lady, she broke the national taboo on discussing breast cancer, the need to seek professional services of a therapist for emotional issues, support of a woman's right to decisions about her own body including support of the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, and even an effort to mainstream the modern dance movement into the traditional forms.
At the core of her conscience was an ironclad belief in the equality of women and men. Like her role in the public issues of breast cancer, the value of therapy and substance abuse recovery, the issue of women's right to full legal equality emerged from her own personal life. When her first husband had fallen ill with what threatened to be a lifelong illness, she realized that her ability to financially support him was compromised by the lack of equal pay for equal work among the genders. Thus, when she became First Lady she quickly rose as the national leader of the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In that role, she delivered the opening speech at the October 1974 Conference on Women in Cleveland.
In this excerpt of that now largely-forgotten speech, Mrs. Ford delivered her crisp yet eloquent case for equal rights. As an example of the increasingly political and social importance of First Ladies to the nation, it ranks with two other revolutionary speeches -- those of Eleanor Roosevelt at the United Nations in outlining the Declaration of Human Rights, a document she helped draft, and of Hillary Clinton in Beijing at the U.N. Conference on Women.
In many respects, this speech is still ahead of its time. It isn't hard to imagine how the media and activists of all political stripes might respond if an incumbent First Lady in the 2010s were to say the words that Mrs. Ford did over a quarter of a century ago.
Donald Rumsfeld Recalls One of the Darkest Days of the Gerald Ford Administration
In any presidency there is an inherent tension between the requirement to do everything reasonable to protect a President’s safety and a President’s understandable desire to meet and shake hands with fellow Americans. In September 1975, one year into the Ford presidency, two events brought that tension front and center in dramatic fashion.
Only a few weeks earlier, David Packard, a senior advisor who had been a founder of the Hewlett-Packard company and had served as the Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Nixon administration under Secretary of Defense Mel Laird, had come to the White House to discuss with the President a challenging but important issue. Given the unique circumstances resulting from the resignation of both a Vice President and a President in recent years, the issue he wanted to discuss was what would take place in the event President Ford did not survive his presidency. This was a critically important and a historically unique question. In our lifetimes, President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, and there had been concerns about President Nixon’s health during the long Watergate crisis. David Packard and I agreed it was important to raise these issues with the President: questions of command and control of America’s nuclear arsenal and what actions might have to be taken in the event of still another assassination or the incapacity of the President and the Vice President. Ford asked for a briefing on the matter and I had suggested that the Vice President have a separate briefing as well.
But these thoughts were not at the front of our minds, at least not then. The summer of 1975 had been filled with other issues and concerns. Betty Ford, for example, had appeared on 60 Minutes, talking openly about things most other First Ladies had avoided—such as her outspoken support for an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. She also got quite personal, telling interviewer Morley Safer she would probably try marijuana if she were a teenager, that she’d seen a psychiatrist, and that “I wouldn’t be surprised” if her daughter told her she had had an affair. The unusually forthcoming First Lady sparked a sensation across the country and led a fair number of Ford aides to raise questions about her effect on the Republican Party’s conservative base. I, for one, believed you’d be howling into the wind by trying to tell Betty Ford what she could or could not say. Over time, as it became clear Americans across the spectrum admired Betty’s outspokenness and general zest for life, the worries eased.
The summer of 1975 also featured a continuation of some hardly unprecedented differences between various officials—Bob Hart- mann was suspected of leaking stories to the media against Henry Kissinger, which Kissinger, understandably, was not happy about. He was determined to identify the leaker. “He may have a legitimate gripe,” I advised the President in August, “but you do not want to have your administration get like Nixon’s did about that problem of leaks.”4 Vice President Rockefeller was trying to persuade people into backing various policy proposals he’d developed, which concerned key Presidential aides, including Alan Greenspan. Based on feedback I’d received from a number of quarters, I raised a caution flag to the President. The Vice President is enthusiastic and many key staff members were reluctant to disagree with the positions he takes, I said. “That is not a criticism of the Vice President, it is a criticism of the circumstance that you deal with as President because those people are afraid to deal with him—they are afraid to speak up when he is present, they are afraid to speak up even when he is not present and you just ought to be aware of it.”
There were lingering discussions and differing views concerning America’s intelligence-gathering activities, further reports of Governor Reagan’s political activities, and the advent of new crises. Added to those immediate tasks were: a looming financial crisis in New York City and a search for a new Supreme Court Justice to replace the retiring William O. Douglas. The President outlined his criteria for the post: quality, confirmability, age—so that the nominee could be there for a while—breadth on the Court so the Court did not have eight people of any one category, some diversity, and finally that the individual should be moderate to moderate conservative. (Ultimately, he nominated John Paul Stevens.)
These controversies and issues—important, to be sure—were promptly put on pause when we were quite suddenly faced with a considerably more pressing concern: President Ford’s mortality.
On Friday, September 5, 1975, President Ford was in the historic Senator Hotel in Sacramento, across from the California State Capitol building where he was scheduled to meet with the state’s new Governor, Jerry Brown. At approximately 10:00 a.m., he left the hotel with his Secret Service detail. He moved toward a sizable gathering of people, several rows deep, who had come out to greet the President. They were lined along the side of a path through the large park in front of the state Capitol. As Ford crossed L Street onto the Capitol grounds, he deviated from the plan—but in a way that hardly surprised anyone who worked with him. He moved immediately to- ward the many well-wishers who had gathered to see him and started shaking hands left and right.
The President was pulling—as he had on his trip to Japan—what is often called an unscheduled “grip and grin” session. This understandably raised the pulse of the Secret Service agents—as well as the concern of those whose task it was to keep the President on schedule—but it was certainly not a surprise. Gerald Ford was a man of the people. He had concluded it was worth the risks given the challenges the country and he had faced together—and overcome—to meet and engage personally with his fellow Americans. Further, very simply, he liked people and, given his midwestern friendliness, he truly appreciated their coming out to meet him.
As the President approached a stand of trees on the left, a woman in the second row of the crowd caught his eye. She was wearing, Ford later recalled, “an unusual red or orange dress.” The woman, he re- counted, “had gray-brown hair and a weathered complexion.” Ford assumed she was going to shake his hand, but he hesitated to greet her. His sensitivity and awareness was understandable. As a member of the Warren Commission, which had been assigned the responsibility to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Ford was fully aware of the dangers that lurked for prominent public figures surrounded by crowds. While he felt it was important to greet as many people as he could, he was still sensitive to the reality of the potential threats a President faces. Apparently something about this woman—perhaps her “unusual” brightly colored dress—stood out for him. Suddenly, when he was just a few feet away from her, he noticed she was gripping an object. It was a .45 caliber pistol, which she began to raise in the direction of the President.
The threat that September morning in California was thwarted quickly. An alert Secret Service agent beside the President had also seen the pistol. True to his training, he did not hesitate before pouncing on the would-be assassin. The quick-thinking team of agents then grabbed the President by his shoulders and moved him down and out of the possible line of fire. As he was being rapidly moved away toward the state Capitol building to safety, Ford turned and looked back just long enough to see a flash of red as several officers wrestled to the ground the armed woman who had set out that morning to assassinate the President of the United States.
From WHEN THE CENTER HELD: Gerald Ford and the Rescue of the American Presidency by Donald Rumsfeld. Copyright © 2018 by Donald Rumsfeld. Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
A groundbreaking First Lady, Betty Ford is often remembered for her candor in addressing the controversial issues of her time.
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 Bennington School of the 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.
Shortly after her marriage to Gerald Ford, 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.
In 1973, Mr. Ford was appointed Vice President of the United States. One year later, in a dramatic turn of political events, upon the resignation of President Nixon, Gerald Ford became the 38 th 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 Equal Rights Amendment and increasing the number of women appointed to senior government posts.
The Fords left politics in 1976 and moved to Rancho Mirage, California. In 1978, following a family intervention, Mrs. Ford underwent successful treatment for addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. She again used her personal story to raise public awareness of addiction, and in 1982, she co-founded the Betty Ford Center to treat victims of alcohol and chemical dependency.
Mrs. Ford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 and the Congressional Gold Medal, with President Gerald R. Ford, in 1999.
Year Honored: 2013
Birth: 1918 - 2011
Born In: Illinois
Educated In: Michigan, Vermont
Schools Attended: Central High School, Bennington School of the Dance
Betty Ford dies at 93 former first lady
Former First Lady Betty Ford, who captivated the nation with her unabashed candor and forthright discussion of her personal battles with breast cancer, prescription drug addiction and alcoholism, has died. She was 93.
Ford died Friday at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, according to Barbara Lewandrowski, a family representative. The cause was not given.
As wife of Gerald R. Ford, the 38th president of the United States and the only person to hold that office without first being elected vice president or president, she spent a brief, yet remarkable time as the nation’s first lady. But after he left office and even after his death in 2006 at 93, she had considerable influence as founder of the widely emulated Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage for the treatment of chemical dependencies.
“Throughout her long and active life, Elizabeth Anne Ford distinguished herself through her courage and compassion,” President Obama said Friday in a statement. “As our nation’s First Lady, she was a powerful advocate for women’s health and women’s rights. After leaving the White House, Mrs. Ford helped reduce the social stigma surrounding addiction and inspired thousands to seek much-needed treatment. While her death is a cause for sadness, we know that organizations such as the Betty Ford Center will honor her legacy by giving countless Americans a new lease on life.”
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan also offered a tribute in her statement: “She has been an inspiration to so many through her efforts to educate women about breast cancer and her wonderful work at the Betty Ford Center. She was Jerry Ford’s strength through some very difficult days in our country’s history, and I admired her courage in facing and sharing her personal struggles with all of us.”
Former President George H.W. Bush added, “No one confronted life’s struggles with more fortitude or honesty, and as a result, we all learned from the challenges she faced.”
Ford was an accidental first lady who had looked forward to her husband’s retirement from political life until Richard Nixon chose him to replace Vice President Spiro Agnew, who had resigned amid allegations of corruption. When turmoil engulfed Nixon during the Watergate scandal, she told anyone who asked that she did not want to be first lady, but the job became hers when the president resigned on Aug. 9, 1974.
The groundbreaking role she would play as first lady may have been foreshadowed in President Ford’s inaugural address.
“I am indebted to no man and only to one woman — my dear wife, Betty,” he told the nation. Over the next 800 days of his tenure, she would outshine him in the polls, and when he ran for election in 1976, one of the most popular campaign buttons read “Betty’s Husband for President.”
Her taboo-busting honesty — about abortion, sex, gay rights, marijuana and the Equal Rights Amendment — was a bracing antidote to the secrecy and deceptions of the Watergate era. Although her opinions may have cost him some votes, historians and other observers would argue later that Gerald Ford could not have ended “our long national nightmare” without Betty leading the way.
“I was terrified at first,” she once said about her sudden elevation to first lady. “I had worked before. I had raised a family — and I was ready to get back to work again. Then, just at that time, this thing happened. And I didn’t have the vaguest idea what being a first lady was and what was demanded of me.”
The solution? “I just decided to be myself,” she said.
Ford caught the attention of a scandal-weary America with her opinions on her children’s dating habits and their possible marijuana use, and on her and her husband’s decision not to follow the White House tradition of separate bedrooms.
She enthusiastically campaigned for feminist causes that she believed in — the Equal Rights Amendment, for example, and the nomination of a woman to the Supreme Court. Her vigorous support of the women’s movement inspired leading feminist Gloria Steinem to remark that she “felt better knowing that Betty Ford was sleeping with the president.”
Two months after Ford moved into the White House, a malignancy was discovered in her right breast. She underwent a radical mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy.
At that time, breast cancer was a taboo subject, so it was remarkable news that she not only disclosed the illness but openly talked about it and her treatment. “It’s hard for anyone born perhaps after 1980 or even in 1970 to understand that these things were not talked about,” Dr. Patricia Ganz, director of cancer prevention and control research at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, told The Times in 2006.
“They were very stigmatizing. A woman didn’t dare mention to her friends, employer, extended family that she had breast cancer,” Ganz said. Ford’s belief that if it could happen to her, “it could happen to anyone,” heightened public awareness of the disease. The American Cancer Society reported a 400% increase in requests about breast cancer screenings, and tens of thousands of women sought mammograms. Among those helped by her frank attitude was Happy Rockefeller, the wife of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, who discovered she had breast cancer and subsequently underwent a mastectomy.
The public outpouring led Ford to realize that when she spoke, people listened. For the rest of her White House days, she would use her position as a bully pulpit to advance the causes and issues she believed in.
She “made the personal political, creating new options for women and for political wives,” historian Mary Linehan wrote in an essay for the book “The Presidential Companion: Readings on the First Ladies.” In so doing, Ford redefined the role of the first lady for herself and those who followed.
During the ratification process for the Equal Rights Amendment, which ultimately failed to win approval, she wrote letters and telephoned state lawmakers in an attempt to enlist their support. Her outspoken advocacy alienated ERA foes, who at one point organized an angry picket line in front of the White House.
She startled a nationwide television audience one Sunday evening shortly after becoming first lady, telling CBS “60 Minutes” interviewer Morley Safer that she wouldn’t be surprised if her daughter Susan, then 18, decided to have an affair. Ford said that she would “certainly counsel her and advise her on the subject, and I’d want to know pretty much about the young man that she was planning to have the affair with.”
She went on to say that she assumed her children had tried marijuana and called the Supreme Court decision supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion “the best thing in the world … a great, great decision.”
The interview unleashed a torrent of negative mail to the White House. Some constituents said her comments reflected a breakdown of American morality and that they would not vote for her husband when he ran for election.
In 1976, President Ford lost to Jimmy Carter by fewer than 2 million votes but not because of his wife’s outspokenness analysts attributed his loss largely to his pardon of Nixon. National pre-election polls showed that almost three-quarters of Americans thought Betty Ford was an excellent first lady, and solid majorities agreed with her stands on controversial subjects, including whether she was right to talk about what she would do if Susan Ford was having an affair.
Although she was often counseled to temper her public remarks, Ford remained true to herself and held little back. The world found out that Gerald Ford was her second husband she divorced the first, a furniture company representative named William Warren, on grounds of incompatibility after five years of marriage.
She offered information, even when she wasn’t asked. Reporters “asked me everything but how often I sleep with my husband,” she once said. “If they’d asked me that I would have told them: ‘As often as possible.’ ”
Her husband had been minority leader of the House when he was selected by Nixon in 1973 to replace Agnew, who had resigned after pleading no contest to federal charges of income tax evasion. Ford served as vice president for only eight months, before Nixon himself resigned in the face of impeachment and certain conviction in the Senate for his role in the Watergate scandal.
At the start of her husband’s abbreviated White House term, Ford indicated that she would prefer that her husband not run for the presidency in 1976. She later changed her mind, and campaigned for him enthusiastically. When it was all over, because Ford’s voice had been reduced to a whisper by campaign speeches, he had his wife read to the press the telegram he had written conceding to Carter.
She was born Elizabeth Ann Bloomer in Chicago on April 8, 1918, and moved with her family to Grand Rapids, Mich., when she was 3. She was a vivacious child — her mother liked to say that Betty “popped out of a bottle of champagne.” Although her father, a traveling salesman, was often away from home, she had a sunny childhood with few clouds until she was 16, when her father died of carbon monoxide poisoning while working on the family car.
At the age of 8, she began studying dance, which developed into a lifelong interest. After graduating from Grand Rapids’ Central High School in 1936, she attended two summer sessions of the Bennington School of Dance in Vermont, where she met Martha Graham. She continued her dance career, studying with Graham for two years in New York, eventually as a member of the Martha Graham Concert Group. She also modeled part-time with the John Powers Agency.
She returned to Grand Rapids in 1941 and became a fashion coordinator for a department store. She also formed her own dance group and taught dance to disabled children. She decided to remain in Michigan. She continued to dance until she pinched a nerve in 1964 while trying to raise a window. The injury led her to begin taking prescription painkillers.
Not long after she divorced her first husband, she met Gerald Ford, who had recently returned to Grand Rapids after serving in the Navy in World War II. Their marriage was delayed for several months because Ford, a lawyer, was running for U.S. representative from Michigan’s 5th Congressional District.
Ford was immediately caught up in his new work, and Betty Ford was determined to keep up with him. But soon she had other things to do: the Fords had four children within seven years.
“That was perhaps more than I expected,” Mrs. Ford told Steinem in 1984.
In her 1973 interview with The Times, shortly after Ford was appointed vice president, she described the tensions and loneliness she suffered as a congressman’s wife, problems that she said were compounded by the constant discomfort of the pinched nerve. In 1972, she began to see a psychiatrist, who also asked to see her husband.
“He saw him a couple of times,” she said. “But it had nothing to do with Jerry. It was just his dumb wife.”
She added: “It was helpful talking over the problems of being here alone quite a bit of the time and having to make decisions about the children at a crucial stage in their growing up. I had been assuming the role of both mother and father.”
The pressures escalated in the White House, however, and Ford began to rely on tranquilizers and alcohol to cope. She later told Barbara Walters that she was taking 20 to 30 pills a day.
Her addictions, she said some years after leaving Washington, was “an escapism from all that living in a fishbowl to a certain extent and the pressure of always having to be ‘on’ when perhaps you feel very ‘un-on’ or very down inside.”
A year after her husband’s loss to Carter, Ford’s problems worsened. She was dependent on “sleeping pills, pain pills, relaxer pills and the pills to counteract the side effects of other pills,” she wrote in her 1987 book “Betty: A Glad Awakening.” She had a glass of vodka or bourbon before dinner and another after dinner. She canceled or missed dates, shuffled around the house in her bathrobe, forgot important conversations with her children and spoke in a slur she was groggy most of the time, walked unsteadily and cracked a rib in a fall. “I was dying,” she said, “and everybody knew it but me.”
Their daughter Susan was so alarmed by her mother’s condition that, one week before her mother’s 60th birthday — on April Fool’s Day, 1978 — she arranged an intervention. Family members, accompanied by a medical team, gathered unannounced at the house in California and one by one told her how her addictions were hurting them and destroying her.
Their remarks cut her to the core she was angry and resentful. “You hit the wall,” she told Life magazine years later, recalling that day. “When you hit the wall, you better find a way to either go around it or over it. The disease (of addiction) is the wall.”
When the emotionally grueling session was over, she decided to scale the wall. She publicly announced that she had an addiction problem and checked into the Long Beach Naval Hospital for a month of detox and therapy.
When she was well on the road to recovery, she had a facelift “to go with my beautiful new life.” Of course, she told everyone about that too.
Ford figured if addiction could happen to her, it could happen to anyone, and she turned her energies toward helping others. With her neighbor, tire magnate Leonard Firestone, she raised $5 million to build an 80-bed facility in Rancho Mirage. Since its opening in October 1982, it has treated more than 75,000 people, including such well-known personalities as Peter Lawford, Liza Minnelli, Johnny Cash and Mary Tyler Moore, and it remains the most prestigious name in the drug and alcohol rehabilitation field.
“Rarely does anyone’s name become a noun. Everyone knows what you’re talking about if you say, ‘I’m going to Betty Ford,’ ” John Robert Greene, a historian and Ford biographer, told the Baltimore Sun in 2006.
In her 80s, Betty Ford remained actively involved as chairwoman of the board and regularly welcomed new residents. Once a month, she started a meeting with patients by saying: “Hello, I’m Betty Ford, I’m an alcoholic and an addict.”
“She speaks as one recovering alcoholic to another,” the late actress Elizabeth Taylor, one of the facility’s most celebrated residents, told People magazine of Ford. “There are no airs about her being first lady.”
Ford, who lived in Rancho Mirage, is survived by her sons Michael Ford, John “Jack” Ford and Steven Ford daughter Susan Ford Bales grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A service is planned in the Coachella Valley. The former first lady will be buried next to her husband at the presidential library in Grand Rapids.
Cimons is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer.
Los Angeles Times staff writer Elaine Woo and former staff writer Claudia Luther contributed to this report.