First Lady and famous cancer survivor Betty Ford dies at 93 –
Betty Ford, the former first lady and wife of President Gerald Ford, the only American president never elected to the offices of both president and vice president, died Friday, July 7, 2011. She was 93. Betty Ford was and will continue to remain an American icon for her support of women’s rights, for her advocacy for breast cancer research, and the for the namesake Betty Ford Center, responsible for saving thousands of lives from drug and alcohol addiction.
In 1974, Betty Ford shocked the nation when she revealed that she had breast cancer and openly spoke about her mastectomy. She became a stalwart advocate for women’s rights and encouraged women to get exams to help with early detection and treatment of breast cancer.
Betty Ford suffered a pinched nerve in the same year, the year in which Gerald Ford was appointed to the presidency, following the Nixon scandal. Doctors prescribed painkillers for her, but it seemed not to be enough. Soon, Betty Ford began drinking as well as taking the painkillers. Never binge drinking but drinking steadily, she said. Following her time in the White House, Betty Ford admitted to addiction problems with painkillers and alcohol.
Her struggles led her to to begin a campaign to help people with drug and alcohol addictions. She referred to it as not a choice but a disease. The Betty Ford Center at Eisenhower, co-founded by Mrs. Ford, became the first licensed addiction treatment hospital in the world in 1982. She embraced the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program and helped pioneer treatment for drug and alcohol addiction as a spiritual recovery rather than an institutional recovery.
According to USA Today:
“Most of the treatment at that time was hospital based,” Betty said. “Leonard Firestone and I realized we wanted a recovery hospital that would be less institutionalized and more of a relaxed setting in these mountains with their serenity and the beauty of them where people would be able to reach a spiritual feeling about their recovery.”
According to ABC:
“I’m not out to rescue anybody who doesn’t want to be rescued,” she once said. “I just think it’s important to say how easy it is to slip into a dependency on pills or alcohol, and how hard it is to admit that dependency.”
Betty Ford has been honored for her convictions and for her tireless work by every presidential administration since she was first lady to President Gerald Ford in 1974. She was affectionately known as the “fighting first lady.”
Betty Ford was not unknown to controversy even before she revealed her troubles with drug and alcohol addictions. She had been divorced once, prior to marrying Gerald Ford, who was vying for a seat in Congress. Their relationship remained largely under wraps for a time, in an era during which it was uncertain whether a marrying a divorced woman might hurt a political career.
Ford persisted in spite of the odds, and she became an American icon. She will be missed, but her good work survives her. Read more about the Betty Ford Center.