NATION

Betty Ford dead: Wife of late President Gerald Ford dies at 93

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While waiting for her divorce to become final, she met and began dating, as she put it in her memoir, "probably the most eligible bachelor in Grand Rapids" - former college football star, Navy veteran and lawyer Jerry Ford. They would be married for 58 years, until his death in December 2006.

President Gerald Ford and his wife Betty are shown in July 1975. (AP Photo / file )

When he proposed, she didn't know about his political ambitions; when he launched his bid for Congress during their engagement, she figured he couldn't win.

Two weeks after their October 1948 wedding, her husband was elected to his first term in the House. He would serve 25 years, rising to minority leader.

Mrs. Ford was thrust into a role she found exhausting and unfulfilling: political housewife. While her husband campaigned for weeks at a time or worked late on Capitol Hill, she raised their four children: Michael, Jack, Steven and Susan. She arranged luncheons for congressional wives, helped with her husband's campaigns, became a Cub Scout den mother, taught Sunday school.

A pinched nerve in her neck in 1964, followed by the onset of severe osteoarthritis, led her to an assortment of prescription drugs that never fully relieved the pain. For years she had been what she later called "a controlled drinker, no binges." Now she began mixing pills and alcohol. Feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated, she suffered an emotional breakdown that led to weekly visits with a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist didn't take note of her drinking but instead tried to build her self-esteem: "He said I had to start thinking I was valuable, not just as a wife and mother, but as myself."

The White House would give her that gift.

In 1973, as Mrs. Ford was happily anticipating her husband's retirement from politics, Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced out of office over bribery charges. President Richard Nixon turned to Gerald Ford to fill the office.

Less than a year later, his presidency consumed by the Watergate scandal, Nixon resigned. On Aug. 9, 1974, Gerald Ford was sworn in as the only chief executive in American history who hadn't been elected either president or vice president.

Mrs. Ford wrote of her sudden ascent to first lady: "It was like going to a party you're terrified of, and finding out to your amazement that you're having a good time."

Her 2½ years as first lady certainly looked fun. Mrs. Ford embraced pop culture, donning a mood ring, dancing "the Bump" with Tony Orlando, joining in the CB radio craze. In contrast to the stilted Nixon years, the Fords were known for rollicking White House parties with popular performers and dancing late into the night.

She credited their "intervention" with saving her life.

Mrs. Ford entered Long Beach Naval Hospital and, alongside alcoholic young sailors and officers, underwent a grim detoxification that became the model for therapy at the Betty Ford Center. In her book "A Glad Awakening," she described her recovery as a second chance at life.

And in that second chance, she found a new purpose.

"There is joy in recovery," she wrote, "and in helping others discover that joy."

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