Betty Ford – A remarkable life
EDITOR’S NOTE: “Betty Ford: Vail Valley’s First Lady” by Elizabeth Eber and Jane Imber is a book commissioned by the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens to honor Betty Ford and recognize her unique contributions to our area. The book will be presented to Mrs. Ford at a tribute event Aug. 7 in Ford Park. Over the next two weeks, the Vail Daily will serialize the contents of the book on page 5.Was there ever a first lady like Betty Ford? She was acquainted with many of them: Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson and Pat Nixon. Their public images were of quiet devotion, style and grace. And then along came Betty, with astounding candor, volubility and verve, and the role of First Lady became the Office of First Lady, and would never be the same. It was not a role she had sought for herself and she had moments when she worried she would not be up to the task, but she was nevertheless resolved to do it her way. “I’m going in as myself and if they don’t like it, they’ll just have to throw me out,” she said.
But we did like her. During the 1976 presidential election, supporters created campaign buttons reading, “Elect Betty’s Husband,” “Keep Betty in the White House,” and “I Love Betty.” Even the President was seen wearing an “I Love Betty” button, but then, everyone already knew that. Perhaps that’s what gave her the courage one morning in Buffalo, New York, to pin a “Keep Betty in the White House” button on Democratic Senator Walter Mondale’s lapel. The loss of the 1976 election was deeply disappointing, but Mrs. Ford faced it with her usual grace, particularly when called upon to deliver her husband’s concession speech. In the last days of the hectic campaign, President Ford had succumbed to laryngitis. The family needed someone to speak for him with courage and composure in the face of defeat. They quickly decided Betty was the one to do that. On the morning of the new president’s inauguration, President and Mrs. Ford shared a ride to the capital with the Carters. Though their conversation may have been somewhat stilted, it represented the finest example of our democracy in action, the peaceful and cordial transition of power. When Jerry later expressed concern that people at his next scheduled appearance would be disappointed not to have a sitting president there, Betty reassured him, “It’s me they’re coming to see.”
Betty Ford’s courageous and successful battle against what may have been a genetic dependence on alcohol and prescription drugs has been well documented by history. She could have let it go at that, but she saw an opportunity to help others and pressed forward into the limelight when some would have retreated. The Fords, along with their friend and Beaver Creek neighbor, Leonard Firestone, conceived of a treatment center in Palm Springs, California, and together they raised the funds to bring their dream into being. At the opening ceremonies, Firestone recalled with admiration and good humor Betty’s tenacious drive to get the project completed and her perfectionist’s attention to detail. He received frequent phone calls from her monitoring his progress, and after the third call one day, burst out with, “Dammit Betty, I’m doing the best I can.” Despite its reputation for celebrity clientele, the Betty Ford Center has brought rebirth and hope to thousands from all walks of life.
In November 1991, Betty Ford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest military award a civilian can receive. In his official statement, then-President George H. W. Bush cited her “selfless, strong, and refreshing leadership on a number of issues, particularly drug and alcohol dependency.”It is evident that Betty Ford believes in candor and being true to yourself, but what else does she believe? She believes a wife should share a bedroom with her husband, even though every first lady before her had been consigned to a room of her own. She believes that it is just as important to take care of your mind as your body. She believes that God lends you your children only until they turn 18. “If you haven’t made your points with them by then,” she wrote, “it’s too late.” She believed it was better to go public about her treatment than to “try and hide behind a silk sheet.” She believes “the people made a big mistake when they didn’t elect (Gerald Ford).” She didn’t believe she “had to do every single thing some previous president’s wife had done.” She believes “it’s not my business to second-guess Him.” She believes “a mother interferes with true love at her peril.” She believes “the search for human freedom can never be complete without freedom for women.” She believes “I wasn’t forcing my opinions on anybody, but if someone asked me a question, I gave that person a straight answer.” She also believes she shouldn’t have to speak before 10 o’clock. She believes “you have to take responsibility for yourself.” She believes “To be remembered with joy has to be a kind of immortality.” She believes, and we must agree, “When I add up the pluses and subtract the minuses, I still come out pretty well.”
Beauty, grace, rebirth and regeneration are the qualities of our garden and the lady who inspired it, our heritage rose, Elizabeth Bloomer Ford.Vail, Colorado