Betty Ford " A remarkable life |

Betty Ford " A remarkable life

Special to the DailyThe Fords with Fred Astaire, who the First Lady almost got to dance with.

The old woman’s eyes grew wide as she saw with perfect clarity the message in the leaves. It was a future no one would believe, too grand, too perfect. The girls would laugh. They in their white gloves and city hats. What should she tell the vivacious, confident one?

You’ll meet the man of your dreams? That always went over. Or you’ll be the mother of four children? People liked to hear that. She chose the truth, to read the leaves just as the girl’s bright spirit called upon her to do. “You’ll dine with kings and queens,” she said. The girls did laugh, but they were pleased and hopeful too.

Could the leaves have known that one day after Gerald Ford took office, Betty Ford would be told she had less than a week to prepare for hosting the King and Queen of Jordan? That wasn’t the first thing most Ann Arbor, Michigan girls encounter after a move to a new house. A lifetime later, with a firm hand and a great deal more self-confidence, Betty would wrest control of a state dinner for Queen Elizabeth from then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and see that things were done right. What she did in between was history.

Elizabeth Ann Bloomer was a sociable toddler who graciously accepted all offers of cookies and ice cream until her mother hung a sign on her back saying, “Please do not feed this child.” Hortense Neahr Bloomer was determined to turn her football and hockey-playing tomboy into a lady. She already had two sons, Bill Jr. and Bob, who were constantly wrestling as boys do. Betty’s burgeoning social activism spurred her to throw herself into their fights. “It didn’t make any difference which one was on top,” she said, “I was for the guy on the bottom.” Her father, William Stephenson Bloomer, was a traveling salesman whose many absences saddened her, and she vowed not to marry a man who travels. It may be no one has ever broken a vow in such spectacular fashion.

At the age of 8, Betty donned black patent leather shoes, ankle socks and white gloves and was sent off to dance school. It was her mother’s idea, a sort of finishing school, preparation for her future life as a wife and mother. Ballet became Betty’s first crush, but it was modern dance that stole her heart. She worked hard at it, doing whatever it took, even designing herself a skirt of flowing scarves that hid any errant moves her knees might make. Dance would be her lifelong passion ” she studied it, taught it, and eventually was led by it to an exciting year in New York under the tutelage of Martha Graham.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

She had first experienced the stern discipline of Martha Graham while a summer student at the Bennington School of Dance in Vermont. The following fall, Martha Graham made an appearance in Ann Arbor. Betty went backstage, took her mentor by the hand and expressed her fervent desire to study with her in New York. The maestra agreed and, although Betty’s dedication to enjoying New York sometimes exceeded her dedication to dance, she proved to be a wise investment for the maestra. In 1976, President Ford, with the encouragement of his wife, awarded Martha Graham the Medal of Freedom, declaring her a national treasure.

To Betty’s eternal frustration, another man in the White House was more resistant to her petitions. Fred Astaire, attending a dinner there, claimed he couldn’t dance without a choreographed routine. Betty finally had him ready to rumba and a photo was snapped when she was called away to attend to her hostess duties, and the opportunity never came again. The debt life owed her for that disappointment was nearly paid in full when she later danced in the arms of Cary Grant. She described herself as “pink with pleasure,” on that occasion. As her brother Billy once said, “She attracted men and I think she liked them all.”

Support Local Journalism