What We Owe to Betty Ford

By accident of history, Betty Ford escaped the sanitizing process that the spouses of presidential candidates endure, forcing them to become smiling appendages of the candidate who, if they have independent thoughts and ideas, are instructed not to express them upon peril of causing an electoral shipwreck. The result of Betty’s escape was a refreshing infusion of independence and candor that we have not seen since in a First Lady. Despite continuing conservative opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, she spoke out publicly and passionately in favor of its passage. As the wife of a Republican president who opposed Roe v. Wade, she participated openly in pro-choice events.

When it was still unacceptable for a First Lady to speak about either cancer or breasts, Betty spoke without hesitation about her fight against breast cancer and her mastectomy. And, finally, after coming to terms with her own addictions and acknowledging them to all, She founded the Betty Ford Center, which has been the source of recovery for the famous and not so famous since 1982.

It’s hard to think of anyone today who sets the kind of example that Betty did, who is both courageous and charming, forthright and funny. Who danced on the White House conference table and admitted how much she enjoyed sleeping with her husband. It’s ironic that it took her death to remind us of the impact of her independence on issues that matter to our daughters and to us all. We still have a long way to go, and Betty will be watching.

Ruth W. Woodling
WoodlingLaw, LLC


  1. Dr. Kathy McCoy says: