Book Review: Betty Ford


First Lady Elizabeth Bloomer Ford

Betty Ford had the soul of a dancer.  Her refreshing and courageous candor broke down the walls of silence surrounding breast cancer and addiction.  She tirelessly championed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) which failed to pass.  And, she launched the Betty Ford Center so that women would have equal access to treatment for drug and alcohol addictions.

I don’t think she was an alcoholic.  I think it was simply more socially acceptable to tell a former First Lady that she had an issue with booze and suggest she go to Alcoholics Anonymous rather than tell the truth and send her to Narcotics Anonymous:  she was a drug addict hooked on prescription medications.

How did this happen?  Betty Ford:  First Lady, Women’s Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer by Lisa McCubbin tells Mrs. Ford’s story with compassion and respect.

Elizabeth Bloomer aspired to become a professional dancer.  She studied with Martha Graham.  Her first marriage ended in divorce, and she was totally devoted to Gerald Ford.  They were married for 58 years and had four children.  She did what most women of her era did to cope with the financial pressures and obligations of being the wife of a politically ambitious Congressman:  she drank, popped pills, and plastered a smile on her face.  The stress ultimately took its toll.

Pres. Gerald R. Ford brought the country back from the brink after Watergate. Pres. Richard Nixon tapped him to be VP after Spiro Agnew got caught with his hands in the proverbial cookie jar.

Betty and Gerald Ford embracing in the Oval Office, December 6, 1974.

I thought Pres. Ford did the right thing by pardoning Pres. Nixon. The country needed to heal, but it cost Pres. Ford the 1976 election when Jimmy Carter was elected president.

President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford in the Oval Office, January 19, 1977.

Being ladylike does not require silence.
– Betty Ford

Mrs. Ford gave the keynote address at the International Women’s Year conference on October 25, 1975:

While many new opportunities are open to women, too many are available only to the lucky few.  Many barriers continue to block the paths of most women, even on the most basic issue of equal pay for equal work. . .And the contributions of women as wives and mothers continue to be underrated.

My own support for the Equal Rights Amendment has shown what happens when a definition of proper behavior collides with the right of an individual to personal opinions.  I do not believe that being first lady should prevent me from expressing my views.  Why should my husband’s job, or yours, prevent us from being ourselves?

Betty Ford on her last full day in the White House, January 19, 1977.

I’ve always wanted to dance on the
Cabinet Room table.
– First Lady Betty Ford

The book is a well-researched account of Mrs. Ford’s life.  It presented me with a nostalgic trip down memory lane.  I’d forgotten that Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were integral figures in the Ford Administration.  Pres. Nixon’s press secretary during the Watergate years was Ron Ziegler. His parents lived across the hall from us when I was a young bride.

Gerald and Betty Ford

I laughed and cried, but I thought the section on Mrs. Ford’s rehab was tedious and sometimes inappropriately intrusive. At the same time, it will be somewhat informative for families struggling with addiction and alcoholism.  For example:

The spouse and children of an alcoholic typically assume various codependent roles in order to cope:  enabler, hero, scapegoat, lost child, mascot.

The enabler steps in to protect the alcoholic/addict from the consequences of her behavior, making excuses to prevent embarrassment and thus minimizing the consequences of addiction.  The hero attempts to be the model child, excelling in everything he does, and taking over family responsibilities.  The scapegoat acts out, is very independent, and is often seen as the “problem child,” as he diverts attention from the alcoholic’s behavior.  The lost child demands little and receives little attention, which often results in his inability to develop close relationships.  The mascot is the attention seeker, often clowning around to defuse the stressful situations caused by the alcoholic.

[The Ford family members’] personalities had formed around [Mrs. Ford’s] addiction.

Betty Ford praying at Pres. Ford’s casket at the US Capitol Rotunda, December 29, 2006.

I recommend the book because the Watergate years parallel our country’s experience now. Thanks to Pres. Ford, we healed and re-united. The bicentennial celebrations in 1976 helped.

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