Was there any modern First Lady with a persona more independent of her husband’s than Betty Ford? (Except Hillary, of course.) She disagreed publicly with core planks of the Republican platform and she built her own enduring cultural legacy in the treatment of substance abuse. To many Americans, I suspect, she’s more vivid than Gerald is. Not bad for someone who spent less than two and a half years in the White House.
ABC has a nice bio. Nancy Reagan and the Bushes have already issued statements:
“I was deeply saddened this afternoon when I heard of Betty Ford’s death,” fellow first lady Nancy Reagan said. “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.”
“Barbara and I loved Betty Ford very much,” President George H.W. Bush’s statement said. “She was a wonderful wife and mother; a great friend; and a courageous first lady. No one confronted life’s struggles with more fortitude or honesty, and as a result, we all learned from the challenges she faced. The Betty Ford Center, which already has helped change the lives of thousands of people, will be her lasting legacy of care and concern. We were proud to know her. We were proud to call her a friend. We will miss her very much.”
I didn’t realize that Gerald Ford was her second husband. Her first was an insurance salesman to whom she was married for five years; according to Wikipedia, while the couple was together in the mid-40s, she worked on a production line in a frozen-food factory in Syracuse. Thirty years later, she was First Lady of the United States.
If you’re looking for video, this brief CBS interview with Ford from five years ago touches on the highlights of her career. But for something more substantial, try Frontline’s 2009 documentary about “The Real Deal.” I’ve embedded the segment on the White House years below but, Betty Ford being Betty Ford, the pre- and post-presidential chapters are interesting too. RIP.