She was noted for raising breast cancer awareness following her 1974 mastectomy and was a passionate supporter of, and activist for, the Equal Rights Amendment. Pro-choice on abortion and a leader in the Women’s Movement, she gained fame as one of the most candid first ladies in history, commenting on every hot-button issue of the time, including feminism, equal pay, ERA, sex, drugs, abortion, and gun control. She also raised awareness of addiction when she announced her long-running battle with alcoholism in the 1970s.
Following her White House years, she continued to lobby for the ERA and remained active in the feminist movement. She is the founder, and served as the first chairwoman of the board of directors, of the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse and addiction and is a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal (co-presentation with her husband, Gerald R. Ford, October 21, 1998) and is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (alone, presented 1991, by George H.W. Bush).
She passed away today at the age of 93.
Betty Ford, the widow of late President Gerald Ford and a co-founder of an eponymous addiction center in California, has died at the age of 93, according to the director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.
Ford died Friday evening with family at her bedside, according to a family member.
Elaine Didier, the director of the Grand Rapids, Michigan, museum, confirmed Ford’s death to CNN.
No other details were immediately available.
Born Elizabeth Anne Bloomer in Chicago, she grew up in Grand Rapids. At the age of 21, she moved to New York City to work as a dancer and model before heading back to the Midwest two years later.
One year after divorcing William Warren after five years of marriage, she wed Gerald Ford — a former star football player at the University of Michigan and a decorated U.S. Navy veteran — in 1948. That year, the woman now known as Betty Ford campaigned with her new husband on his successful campaign to become a U.S. congressman.
The family moved to Washington, where Gerald Ford served in the Capitol for 25 years prior to his being tapped, in 1973, as then-President Richard Nixon’s vice president in place of Spiro T. Agnew.
Just over 10 months later, Betty Ford became first lady when her husband was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States.
She soon made headlines, discussing abortion, pre-marital sex and equal rights on CBS’ “60 Minutes” and being named as Newsweek’s 1975 “Woman of the Year.”
But in 1978, just over one year after leaving the White House after her husband lost his campaign to remain president, Ford made headlines of a different kind. She entered the Long Beach Naval Hospital to be treated for alcohol and prescription painkiller abuse.
That same year, she published the first of two autobiographies, entitled “The Times of My Life.” Ford would go on to become a high-profile example of someone who battled substance abuse issues, as well as a tireless advocate for treatment.
Her work paid dividends in October 1982 when, along with Leonard Firestone, she opened the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California. To this day, the center remains one of the most well-known and respected places nationwide for treatment of alcoholism and other drug dependencies.
Ford also fought to promote awareness and research on breast cancer, with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation eventually naming an award in her honor.
She earned numerous honors over her life, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 and the Congressional Gold Medal eight years later.
Her husband, Gerald Ford, died in 2006.
She was a liberal Republican, but a fine lady. Ladies of her ilk are few and hard to find.
Our sympathies go to the Ford family in this time of sorrow.