Former US first lady Elizabeth Ford, dies


Saturday, July 09, 2011

LOS ANGELES, USA (AFP) — Former US first lady Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Ford, who died yesterday at age 93, turned her battles with addiction and breast cancer into triumph as she overcame them and helped others follow suit.

Speaking openly about her fight with breast cancer and her dependence on prescription drugs and alcohol, Ford removed much of the stigma attached to both devastating illnesses and aided others battling the same demons.

FORD… said that being first lady was much more than a 24-hour job than anyone would guess

Nancy Reagan, a fellow former first lady, hailed Ford as an "inspiration" through her work to educate women about breast cancer and her Betty Ford Centre.

The recovery hospital for alcohol and drug rehabilitation in Rancho Mirage, California, has treated tens of thousands of people since 1982.

Ford’s life as a politician’s wife appeared to take a toll, as her husband, Gerald R Ford, went from congressman to vice-president to US president. He died in December 2006.

"My dad was gone from home a lot," Ford’s daughter Susan Ford Bales told Parade magazine in a 2005 interview. "Mother was almost like a single mom, raising kids, running a house — the perfect Barbie doll wife. Like many women, she felt totally overwhelmed, undervalued and unappreciated. I thought she was a superwoman, but every woman is fragile after a point."

After Ford suffered what Bales referred to as her first nervous breakdown, doctors prescribed tranquilisers, sleeping pills and other medication.

"Doctors then were often more eager to give women pills than to listen to them," Ford told Parade.

But once she became dependent on the drugs, her daughter became frightened.

"I was scared," Bales recalled in the interview. "I wanted back the mother I admired and loved. I didn’t want to see her downtrodden, stumbling, making no sense, dying."

Bales was instrumental in staging the intervention that eventually led her mother to recovery.

"After her treatment and recovery, mother was like a bud that had opened," Bales told Parade. "The rose was very beautiful to see. Mother’s life was not about herself anymore. It was about helping the guy down the street."

Inspired to promote awareness about breast cancer and women’s health after being diagnosed and treated for the deadly disease in 1974, Ford became co-chairman of the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation when it was founded in 1982.

Of her battle with cancer and her subsequent mastectomy, Ford said she felt that "maybe if I, as first lady, could talk about it candidly and without embarrassment, many other people would be able to, as well".

Born Elizabeth Ann Bloomer on April 8, 1918 in Chicago, the youngest of three children grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and studied dance at Bennington College in Vermont.

She divorced her first husband William Warren after five years, citing incompatibility, and began dating then-Navy lieutenant Gerald Ford a short time later. The couple married on October 15, 1948, just two weeks before Gerald Ford was elected to Congress.

They lived in the Washington area for nearly three decades, as he climbed up the political ladder from the US Capitol to the White House.

"I like challenges very much," Betty Ford once said. But she said that being first lady was "much more than a 24-hour job than anyone would guess."

Nancy Reagan called her "Jerry Ford’s strength through some very difficult days in our country’s history, and I admired her courage in facing and sharing her personal struggles with all of us."

In addition to being a prominent women’s advocate, Ford also had a special love for the arts and a profound interest in helping handicapped children.

She gave dance lessons to handicapped youth after performing for a time with choreographer Martha Graham’s renowned dance troupe in New York City.

As a young woman, she also worked as a fashion model and, later, as a department store fashion co-ordinator.

Ford is survived by her four children Michael, Jack, Steven and Susan, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

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