(Photo credit CBSNews.com)
First Lady Betty Ford died on Friday, July 8th, at the age of 93. She is remembered for her groundbreaking work in the area of addiction, and the Betty Ford Center has become synonymous with addiction rehab. Her diagnosis of breast cancer in 1974 helped to bring this serious issue to light. Her successful battle against breast cancer was an inspiration to many women, and served as an encouragement for women to seek out mammograms.
There was so, so much more to this woman than I knew. Mainly, I knew her as the wife of the bumbling Gerald Ford, who took over the presidency after the Watergate Scandal felled Richard Nixon. I have since learned that the clumsy, klutzy depiction of Gerald Ford was the result of one trip, glorified by Chevy Chase on SNL, and forever associated with this former Michigan quarterback and US Navy veteran. Such is the power of the media, even those dedicated to spoofs (how many people still think Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from her house after Tina Fey made the comment on SNL?).
But back to Betty Ford. In her early days, she was a dancer, modern dance in particular. She even danced in New York with Martha Graham’s company at Carnegie Hall (who knew?). There is much to this woman, including how involved she was with women’s issues, and the work of the president in general:
[snip] According to their son Jack, Betty Ford not only read through the President’s briefing papers on political issues he faced, and reviewed with him those pertaining to social programs or any which affected women. She also quietly worked as a conduit on legislative and other domestic agenda issues, both to and from him to others. Although she refused to ever discuss what issues they may have disagreed on, she did admit to serving as what she called, a “sounding board,” and exercising “pillow talk” on occasion. She also admitted to reviewing his more important speeches, offering advice to make cuts and use livelier language, without the need to always spell out details but rather leave audiences with some eagerness for further clarifications. Publicly, she gave only faint enthusiasm for the public relations effort “Whip Inflation Now,” a public relations action effort by the Administration intended to encourage cost-cutting and budgeting by citizens to counter the economic inflation of 1974-1975. In the White House, Mrs. Ford emphasized that she was reducing both her family and public entertaining food costs by serving less-expensive poultry, substituting soup for the pricier fish course, having smaller portions served. Personally, she stated, she would have her older shoes dyed rather than buy new ones for each event she needed them, and purchased her cosmetics in larger bulk to keep cost down. She also signed a “consumer’s pledge” to buy “only those products and services priced at or below present levels…” [snip]
She was an amazing woman, to be sure. If you have the time and inclination, you can read all about her at the National First Ladies’ Library.
First Lady Ford’s funeral is Tuesday, July 12th. Something else I did not know is that presidents and first ladies prepare their funerals down to the detail. According to this Washington Post article, First Lady Ford knew a few years back who she wanted to deliver her eulogy:
[snip] In 2006, Cokie Roberts got a call from Ford’s daughter Susan: her mom wanted Roberts to deliver a eulogy, whenever that time came, at her funeral.
“Wow — that’s an incredible honor,” the veteran D.C. journalist replied. Then, she recalls, Susan gave Roberts her assignment: “Mother wants you to talk about the way things used to be.”
“A time in Washington when Democrats and Republicans used to be friends, when their families were all friends,” Roberts told us Monday. “The main message she wanted me to say is when you’re friends, government works. It’s like she planned it for this week.”
Roberts has been friends with the Fords for decades. Her father, Hale Boggs, was House majority leader when Gerald Ford was minority leader. Her mother, Lindy, teamed with Betty on various causes. The familes went to school and church together.
“They were all friends with each other,” Roberts said. When her father disappeared after an Alaska plane crash in 1972, the Fords were “devastated. . . they were so supportive.” [snip]
Ah, yes, those were the days, were they not? Sadly, they seem long gone, it seems…(There will be two other speakers at the Washington funeral, First Lady Rosalynn Carter and the Betty Ford Center’s Geoffrey Mason. First Lady Ford will have a funeral service in Michigan, too, where she will be laid to rest with her husband.)
What an amazing, complicated, dedicated woman First Lady Betty Ford was. My sincerest condolences to her family and friends. In honor of First Lady Ford being an Episcopalian, I have the following rendition of the Nunc Dimittis* is in her honor (this is one of my favorite hymns from Vespers):
Rest in peace.
Salva nos, Domine, vigilantes, custodi nos
dormientes, ut vigil emus cum Christo et requiescamus in pace.
Save us, O Lord, while we are awake, and guard us
when we sleep, that we may watch with Christ and rest in peace.
Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace:
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.
Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word in peace;
Because my eyes have seen Thy salvation,
Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples:
A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.