Betty Ford dead at 93
Betty Ford, the wife of former U.S president Gerald Ford and whose battle with alcoholism led her to co-found the now famous treatment clinic that bears her name has died. She was 93.
Betty Ford's death was confirmed by Marty Allen, chairman emeritus of the Ford Foundation. He did not comment further, and said he expected the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum would release information later.
Her husband, Gerald, died in December 2006, and she had undergone surgery for an undisclosed ailment in April 2007.
During and after her years in the White House, 1974 to 1977, Betty Ford won acclaim for her candor, wit and courage as she fought breast cancer, severe arthritis and the twin addictions of drugs and alcohol. She also pressed for abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment.
Modest about rehab center
But it was her Betty Ford Center, that rescued celebrities and ordinary people from addiction, that made her famous in her own right. She was modest about that accomplishment.
"People who get well often say, 'You saved my life,' and 'You've turned my life around,"' she recalled. "They don't realize we merely provided the means for them to do it themselves and that's all.
"That's a God-given gift as far as I'm concerned. I don't take any credit for providing anything that wasn't provided to me."
After the former president died Dec. 26, 2006, at age 93, his widow said: "His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country."
They had been married in 1948, the same year he was elected to Congress.
As she and their children led the nation in mourning him, Americans were reminded anew of her own contributions, as well as his. It was calculated then that the Betty Ford Center had treated 76,000 people.
She and her husband had retired to Rancho Mirage after he lost a bruising presidential race to Jimmy Carter in 1976. She went to work on her memoirs, The Times of My Life, which came out in 1979. But the social whirlwind that engulfed them in Washington was over, and Betty Ford confessed that she missed it.
"We had gone into the campaign to win and it was a great disappointment losing, particularly by such a small margin," she said. "It meant changing my whole lifestyle after 30 years in Washington, and it was quite a traumatic experience."
By 1978, she was addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs. She would later describe herself during that period as "this nice, dopey pill-pusher sitting around and nodding."
"As I got sicker," she recalled, "I gradually stopped going to lunch. I wouldn't see friends. I was putting everyone out of my life." Her children recalled her living in a stupor, shuffling around in her bathrobe, refusing meals in favor of a drink.
Her family finally confronted her in April 1978 and insisted she seek treatment. She credited their "intervention" with saving her life.
"I was stunned at what they were trying to tell me about how I disappointed them and let them down," Ford told The Associated Press in 1994.
"I was terribly hurt — after I had spent all those years trying to be the best mother, wife I could be. ... Luckily, I was able to hear them saying that I needed help and they cared too much about me to let it go on, she said.
She entered Long Beach Naval Hospital and underwent a grim detoxification, which became the model for therapy at the Betty Ford Center. She saw her recovery as a second chance at life.
Lobbied for treatment center
Her own experience, and that of a businessman friend whom she helped save from alcoholism, were the inspiration for the center, located on the grounds of the Eisenhower Medical Center. She helped raise $3 million, lobbied in the state capital for its approval, and reluctantly agreed to let it be named for her.
"The center's name has been burden, as well as honor," she wrote. "Because even if nobody else holds me responsible, I hold myself responsible."
She liked to tell patients, "I'm just one more woman who has had this problem."
She continued to be outspoken on public issues, pressing for fellow Republicans to be moderate on social questions. She spoke out in favor of gays in the military in a 1993 Washington Post interview, saying they had been serving for many years.
She was born in Chicago on April 8, 1918, and raised in Grand Rapids, Mich. She was talented in dancing and ultimately studied with the great dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. She also worked as a model to make extra money during the Depression.
An early marriage to a furniture company representative, William Warren, ended in divorce before she met Gerald Ford, a lawyer just out of the Navy. When he proposed in 1948, she said later, she had no idea he planned a political career.