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Betty Ford: First Lady, Women's Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer

Review

Betty Ford: First Lady, Women's Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer

Lisa McCubbin’s new book tells the unique story of a remarkable American woman, Betty Bloomer Ford. She was a former dancer, model and recent divorcee when she met fellow Michigander Gerald Ford. After dating Betty for six months, Jerry offhandedly proposed by saying, “I’d like to marry you.” The proposal came with a caveat: “We can’t get married until next fall, and I can’t tell you why.” Betty quickly accepted. Two months later, Jerry confessed that he was going to run for Congress. At the time, she did not appreciate the significance of his ambition, but if this was what he truly wanted to do, then she was all in.

Two weeks after their October 1948 wedding, Jerry won a seat in Congress. And as they say, “The rest is history.”

Those next years were very busy ones. Four young children and the social obligations of a Congressman’s wife kept Betty on the go, and she was fortunate to have a housekeeper named Clara who became like a second mother to the kids. And as Jerry’s success in Washington grew, he spent a great deal of time traveling. All Betty ever really wanted was to be with Jerry and their children, and to return to Michigan to raise their family. This was not happening.

"Like Eleanor Roosevelt before her, Betty Ford shattered --- hopefully once and for all --- the stereotype of what a First Lady should be."

In 1964, Betty experienced a pinched nerve in her neck that caused excruciating pain. Only strong medications would relieve the pain, and all too easily she became addicted. Add the evening cocktails, and a recipe for disaster was in the making.

Jerry’s career continued to thrive, and eventually he became vice president to Richard Nixon. Then came Watergate. Nixon resigned in disgrace, and Jerry became president, something he never imagined or wanted. When he took the oath of office, Betty would say years later that it was the saddest day of her life.

Betty’s personal life continued to spiral out of control, which eventually led to her being admitted to a rehabilitation facility for treatment of both drug addiction and alcoholism. Ultimately, Betty and a friend and neighbor, Leonard Firestone, who was also a recovering alcoholic, went on to create a rehabilitation facility in California that is world-renowned. She had the name recognition and Leonard had the finances and connections to make this huge undertaking a reality. It opened in 1982. And even now, when the anchorperson mentions on the evening news that such and such celebrity “had been admitted to Betty Ford,” it is immediately understood what that means.

In addition to shedding a bright light on the problems of addiction and alcoholism, Betty is linked to breast cancer awareness and finding a cure. It seems that for every devastating medical problem that Betty suffered, she was able to raise public awareness. It would be impossible to evaluate how much progress has been made regarding these diseases because of her willingness to be so frank about her struggles.

Betty was often criticized for being outspoken about then-socially taboo subjects, such as premarital sex and abortion, and she campaigned for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. But above all, this candid woman will be best remembered for being a champion of honesty and courage. Like Eleanor Roosevelt before her, Betty Ford shattered --- hopefully once and for all --- the stereotype of what a First Lady should be.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on September 14, 2018

Betty Ford: First Lady, Women's Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer
by Lisa McCubbin

  • Publication Date: September 11, 2018
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • ISBN-10: 1501164686
  • ISBN-13: 9781501164682