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Betty Ford funeral: Current, former first ladies gather for service

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Florist John Ballow for years has catered to Rancho Mirage's wealthy and famous, but there were few with whom he developed as close a relationship as the woman he reverentially calls "Mrs. Ford."

Betty Ford waves to the crowd with her husband, Gerald, at the 1984 Republican National Convention. (Photo: Associated Press)

"I took this almost as bad as a member of my family dying — the world does not make Mrs. Fords anymore," said Ballow.

The city's annual Betty Ford Pro-Am Golf Tournament draws on the lush fairways to raise money for people who cannot afford addiction treatment.

The rest of the world, however, knew the rehab center's hometown primarily for its ties to Hollywood's elite, so much so that it became the punch line in discussions of celebrity overindulgence.

In 1996, Kelsey Grammer described to Jay Leno how his treatment at Betty Ford helped restore his joy of living. The comedian also quipped about the center's stature and its famous patients.

"When I was on my way to the Betty Ford Center, I turned to one of my friends and said, 'You know, I've finally made it. I'm going to the Betty Ford Center,'" he said.

Grammer, however, also credited the center with saving his life as did many of the celebrities who honored Ford on Friday as news of her death spread, from Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin to "One Day at a Time" actress Mackenzie Phillips to Ali McGraw, who was treated at the center in 1986.

"She changed so many of our lives with her courage and intelligence, her honesty and humility, and her deep grace," McGraw said. "Her vision impacted my own life as few people have."

But Ford herself would have rejected the praise as she did in life, preferring instead to turn the attention back to the person who was struggling with the demons of addiction.

"People who get well often say, 'You saved my life,' and 'You've turned my life around,'" Ford once said. "They don't realize we merely provided the means for them to do it themselves, and that's all."

After the Tuesday service in California, Ford's casket will travel Wednesday to Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, where she grew up, and where she met her husband of 58 years.

As in California, there will be another tribute service for family and friends at Grace Episcopal Church before a public visitation is held. Lynne Cheney, the wife of former vice president Dick Cheney, and history scholar Richard Norton Smith will give eulogies at the Michigan service.

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