The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson

THE ART OF
KEVIN BLYTHE SAMPSON

7/8/11

Betty Ford dead at 93 - Reid J. Epstein - POLITICO.com

Betty Ford dead at 93 - Reid J. Epstein - POLITICO.com

Betty Ford dead at 93

Betty Ford, left, and then-president Gerald Ford are shown in 1975. | AP Photo

Betty Ford, wife to a president, a women’s rights crusader whose namesake treatment center made her name synonymous with substance abuse rehabilitation, died Friday. She was 93.

After her husband elevated to the presidency following Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation, Ford campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, legal abortion and spoke openly of her battle with breast cancer. For these efforts, she was one of 12 women named as Time magazine’s Women of the Year for 1975.

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In 1976, after her husband lost his bid for a full term as president, it was Betty Ford who delivered his concession speech.

“It’s been the greatest honor of my husband’s life to have served his fellow Americans during two of the most difficult years in our history,” she said as an ashen-faced Gerald Ford stood behind her.

Her longest lasting legacy will be the Betty Ford Center for drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Ford founded the center in 1982 after her own battle with alcohol abuse and prescription medication. It has become the substance rehabilitation center for celebrities ranging from Mickey Mantle to Elizabeth Taylor.

President Barack Obama on Friday called Ford, “a powerful advocate for women’s health and women’s rights.”

“Throughout her long and active life, Elizabeth Anne Ford distinguished herself through her courage and compassion,” the president said. “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.”

Public condolences began to pour in Friday as word of Ford’s death spread.

Nancy Reagan issued a statement saying she “was deeply saddened this afternoon when I heard of Betty Ford’s death. 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.”

And former President George H.W. Bush, who battled Ford for the 1980 GOP vice presidential nomination, praised her courage.

Bush said: “Barbara and I loved Betty Ford very much. 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”

Born Elizabeth Ann Bloomer in 1918 in Chicago, she was raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., and studied dance, eventually performing in Carnegie Hall, according to her official biography.

After her first marriage ended in divorce, she married Gerald R. Ford in 1948 in Grand Rapids, months before he was first elected to represent western Michigan in Congress. The couple had four children.