Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Associated Press: Betty Ford dies aged 93


 Former US first lady and founder of rehabilitation clinic credited with removing the taboo from addiction.


                                                                                                                                Photo: Ho/Reuters
Betty Ford outside the clinic she founded in California, in 1990.


 Betty Ford, the first US first lady of the post-Watergate era and inspiration for the addiction clinic that bears her name, has died aged 93.
 During and after her years in the White House, 1974 to 1977, Ford won acclaim for her candour, wit and courage as she fought breast cancer, severe arthritis and the twin addictions of drugs and alcohol. She also pressed for abortion rights and women's rights.
 Ford's husband, Gerald, died in December 2006, aged 93. They had been married in 1948, the same year Gerald Ford was elected to Congress.
 Barack Obama said in a statement that the Betty Ford Centre would honour her legacy "by giving countless Americans a new lease of life".
 "As our nation's first lady, she was a powerful advocate for women's health and women's rights. After leaving the White House, Mrs Ford helped reduce the social stigma surrounding addiction and inspired thousands to seek much-needed treatment."
 In an era when cancer was discussed in hushed tones and a mastectomy was still a taboo subject, the first lady shared the details of her breast cancer surgery. The publicity helped to bring the disease into the open and inspired countless women to seek breast examinations.
 Indeed, Ford built an enduring legacy by opening up the toughest times of her life as a public example.
 While her husband was president, Ford's comments weren't the kind of genteel, innocuous talk expected from a first lady, and a Republican one no less. Her unscripted comments sparked media storms and dismayed her husband's advisers, who were trying to soothe the national psyche after Watergate. But 1970s America found Ford's openness refreshing, and people loved her for it.
 Her most painful revelation came 15 months after leaving the White House, when Ford announced she was starting treatment for a longtime addiction to painkillers and alcohol.
 She and her husband had retired to Rancho Mirage, California, after he lost a bruising presidential race to Jimmy Carter in 1976. She went to work on her memoirs, The Times of My Life, which came out in 1979. But the social whirlwind that had engulfed them in Washington was over, and Betty Ford confessed that she missed it.
 "We had gone into the campaign to win and it was a great disappointment losing, particularly by such a small margin," she said. "It meant changing my whole lifestyle after 30 years in Washington, and it was quite a traumatic experience."
 By 1978, she was addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs. She would later describe herself during that period as "this nice, dopey pill pusher sitting around and nodding".
 "As I got sicker," she recalled, "I gradually stopped going to lunch. I wouldn't see friends. I was putting everyone out of my life." Her children recalled her living in a stupor, shuffling around in her bathrobe, refusing meals in favour of a drink.
 Her family finally confronted her in April 1978 and insisted she seek treatment. She credited their "intervention" with saving her life.
 She entered Long Beach naval hospital and underwent a grim detoxification, which became the model for therapy at the Betty Ford Centre. She saw her recovery as a second chance at life. Although most famous for celebrity patients like Elizabeth Taylor, Johnny Cash and Lindsay Lohan, the Betty Ford Centre keeps its rates relatively affordable and has treated more than 90,000 people.
 Her own experience, and that of a friend whom she helped with his alcoholism, were the inspiration for the centre. She helped raise $3m (£1.8m), lobbied in the California state capital for its approval, and reluctantly agreed to let it be named after her.
 "The centre's name has been a burden, as well as honour," she wrote. "Because even if no one else holds me responsible, I hold myself responsible." She liked to tell patients, "I'm just one more woman who has had this problem."
 Her efforts won her a presidential medal of freedom, the highest civilian honour, from George Bush Sr in 1991.
 "She was a wonderful wife and mother; a great friend; and a courageous first lady," the former president said in a statement. "No one confronted life's struggles with more fortitude or honesty."

©guardian.co.uk




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