Wednesday 20 September 2017

Betty Ford, former first lady and addiction pioneer dies at 93

independent.ie reporters

Former first lady Betty Ford, who set up the world's most famous addiction clinic, has died at the age of 93.

Mrs Ford had played a key role in helping to re-establish the pride and self-respect of America after her husband Gerald replaced the disgraced Richard Nixon as president in 1974 after the Watergate scandal.

Just months after he took office, she underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer.

She spoke out in favour of abortion rights and gun control – positions that would be anathema to most in the current Republican party hierarchy.

But it was her frank revelations about her own addictions that won her most respect.

She went on to found the Betty Ford clinic – a facility that pioneered the world of rehabilitation.

Another former first lady Nancy Reagan said: “She has been an inspiration to so many through her efforts to educate women about breast cancer and her wonderful work at the Betty Ford Center. She was 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.”

President Barack Obama praised her courage and compassion. "As our nation's first lady, she was a powerful advocate for women's health and women's rights,'' he said in a statement.

''After leaving the White House, Mrs Ford helped reduce the social stigma surrounding addiction and inspired thousands to seek much-needed treatment.''

Yet in her autobiography, Mrs Ford, a former dancer, said of her herself: “I am an ordinary woman who was called onstage at an extraordinary time … Through an accident of history, I had become interesting to people.”

In September 1974, after breast cancer was diagnosed, Mrs Ford had a radical mastectomy, followed by two years of chemotherapy. Many American women said that her openness about her condition and the removal of a breast encouraged them to go for examinations and undergo treatment.

Women facing such an operation should “go as quickly as possible and get it done … Once it’s done, put it behind you and go on with your life".

It was her battles with painkillers, alcohol and depression that truly drew her to America’s heart. But she only admitted she had a problem after her husband and family confronted her in an “intervention” in 1978.

Four years later, she established The Betty Ford Center near Palm Springs. It has treated about 27,000 people, including famous names such as Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Mary Tyler Moore and Lindsay Lohan.

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