DETROIT (AP) - Betty Ford, the former first lady whose triumph
over drug and alcohol addiction became a beacon of hope for addicts
and the inspiration for her Betty Ford Center, has died, a family
friend said Friday. She was 93.
Mrs. Ford's death was confirmed by Marty Allen, chairman
emeritus of the Ford Foundation. He did not comment further, and
said he expected the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum
would release information later.
Betty Ford, whose husband, Gerald, died in December 2006, had
undergone surgery for an undisclosed ailment in April 2007. During
and after her years in the White House, 1974 to 1977, Mrs. Ford won
acclaim for her candor, wit and courage as she fought breast
cancer, severe arthritis and the twin addictions of drugs and
alcohol. She also pressed for abortion rights and the Equal Rights
But it was her Betty Ford Center, a desert oasis that rescued
celebrities and ordinary people from addiction, that made her
famous in her own right. She was modest about that accomplishment.
"People who get well often say, `You saved my life,' and
`You've turned my life around,"' she recalled. "They don't
realize we merely provided the means for them to do it themselves
and that's all.
"That's a God-given gift as far as I'm concerned. I don't take
any credit for providing anything that wasn't provided to me."
After the former president died Dec. 26, 2006, at age 93, his
widow said: "His life was filled with love of God, his family and
his country." They had been married in 1948, the same year he was
elected to Congress.
As she and their children led the nation in mourning him,
Americans were reminded anew of her own contributions, as well as
his. It was calculated then that the Betty Ford Center had treated
"It's hard to imagine a more important figure in the substance
abuse field than Mrs. Ford," Rick Rawson, associate director of
the integrated substance abuse program at the University of
California at Los Angeles, said at the time.
She and her husband had retired to Rancho Mirage after he lost a
bruising presidential race to Jimmy Carter in 1976. She went to
work on her memoirs, "The Times of My Life," which came out in
1979. But the social whirlwind that engulfed them in Washington was
over, and Betty Ford confessed that she missed it.
"We had gone into the campaign to win and it was a great
disappointment losing, particularly by such a small margin," she
said. "It meant changing my whole lifestyle after 30 years in
Washington, and it was quite a traumatic experience."
By 1978, she was addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs. She
would later describe herself during that period as "this nice,
dopey pill-pusher sitting around and nodding."
"As I got sicker," she recalled, "I gradually stopped going
to lunch. I wouldn't see friends. I was putting everyone out of my
life." Her children recalled her living in a stupor, shuffling
around in her bathrobe, refusing meals in favor of a drink.
Her family finally confronted her in April 1978 and insisted she
seek treatment. She credited their "intervention" with saving her
"I was stunned at what they were trying to tell me about how I
disappointed them and let them down," Ford told The Associated
Press in 1994.
"I was terribly hurt - after I had spent all those years trying
to be the best mother, wife I could be. ... Luckily, I was able to
hear them saying that I needed help and they cared too much about
me to let it go on, she said.
She entered Long Beach Naval Hospital and underwent a grim
detoxification, which became the model for therapy at the Betty
Ford Center. She saw her recovery as a second chance at life.
"When you come back from something that was as disagreeable and
unsettling as my alcoholism, when you come back to health from
that, everything is so much more valuable," she said in her book,
"A Glad Awakening."
Her own experience, and that of a businessman friend whom she
helped save from alcoholism, were the inspiration for the center,
located on the grounds of the Eisenhower Medical Center. She helped
raise $3 million, lobbied in the state capital for its approval,
and reluctantly agreed to let it be named for her.
"The center's name has been burden, as well as honor," she
wrote. "Because even if nobody else holds me responsible, I hold
She liked to tell patients, "I'm just one more woman who has
had this problem."
Her efforts won her a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the
nation's highest civilian honor, from the first President Bush in
1991. In October 1999: Gerald and Betty Ford both were awarded
Congressional Gold Medals.
She continued to be outspoken on public issues, pressing for
fellow Republicans to be moderate on social questions. She spoke
out in favor of gays in the military in a 1993 Washington Post
interview, saying they had been serving for many years.
During the Clinton presidency, Mrs. Ford praised first lady
Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying she had been with her at a meeting
on health care and found her "courteous, charming, able,
attractive. ... She asks good questions. She picked out one of the
most demanding roles she possibly could."
In 2005, she was presented with the Gerald R. Ford Medal of
Distinguished Public Service from her husband's foundation, telling
the gathering that it was "very, very special." She added in her
typical candor: "It's kind of all in the family, and I feel a
little guilty about it."
Mrs. Ford's first public appearance after her husband's death
was in August 2007, when she attended a ceremony near Rancho Mirage
as a postage stamp honoring the late president was issued. She did
not speak. She had not traveled to Texas for the funeral of Lady
Bird Johnson the previous month.
Elizabeth Bloomer was born in Chicago on April 8, 1918, and
raised in Grand Rapids, Mich. She was talented in dancing and
ultimately studied with the great dancer and choreographer Martha
Graham. She also worked as a model to make extra money during the
With her gray-green eyes, chestnut hair and stately bearing, she
was often described as regal.
An early marriage to a furniture company representative, William
Warren, ended in divorce before she met Gerald Ford, a lawyer just
out of the Navy. When he proposed in 1948, she said later, she had
no idea he planned a political career.
"I really thought I was marrying a lawyer, and we'd be living
in Grand Rapids," she recalled. Then he announced his plan to run
for Congress and even made a campaign appearance during their
Political life was hard for her. While her husband campaigned or
worked late on Capitol Hill, she raised their four children:
Michael Gerald, born in 1950; John Gardner, born in 1952; Steven
Meigs, born in 1956; and Susan Elizabeth, born in 1957.
She said the pressure led her to consult a psychiatrist who told
her "I shouldn't give up everything for my husband and my
children, but had to think about what mattered to me."
The children were in their late teens and early 20s by the time
the Fords moved into the White House and only Susan lived there.
But they were a close family, gathering at Vail, Colo., for
Christmas skiing vacations.
"When I came to Washington, I saw my job as a supporting wife
and mother," Mrs. Ford said. "But I came to feel an emptiness in
spite of the fact I was happy. The old term housewife just didn't
seem right. That's when I looked for support in my thinking that
there must be something more than that. And indeed there is."
She became an outspoken advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment,
favored legal abortion and supported drafting women for the armed
services. When asked on "60 Minutes" what she would do if her
daughter, Susan, had an affair, she responded, "Well, I wouldn't
be surprised. I'd think she was a perfectly normal human being. ...
If she wanted to continue, I would certainly counsel and advise her
on the subject."
Drawing on her dance background, she also helped foster interest
in the arts during her time as first lady. She reconnected with her
old teacher Graham, who remembered her as "very dedicated," and
Graham received the Medal of Freedom in a White House ceremony
during the Ford years.
When she underwent a radical mastectomy for removal of a
cancerous breast, she kept no secrets, bringing the disease into
Thousands of women rushed to get breast examinations because of
Betty Ford Center: http://www.bettyfordcenter.org/
Gerald Ford library and museum:
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)