No ordinary First Lady
The Junior League of Grand Rapids
Causes/Issue Area(s): substance abuse prevention, breast cancer awareness & prevention, women’s equality, pay equity
Honors/Achievements: First Lady of the United States, Substance Abuse Prevention Pioneer, Founder of the Betty Ford Center and Betty Ford Breast Care Services at Spectrum Health
So who was Betty Ford? Wife? Mother? First Lady? Cancer survivor? Activist for women? Substance abuse prevention pioneer?
All of those descriptions fit the woman whose death touched so many people, including some too young to know her at the peak of her life as a trailblazer on important issues.
Raised in Grand Rapids, Elizabeth Ann Bloomer became a member of the Junior League of Grand Rapids as a young woman. (She even performed in the League’s 1936 musical production of “Merry Go Round.”) While her life took her away from Grand Rapids, and she lived for many years in California after she and her husband, President Gerald Ford, left the White House in 1977, Betty remained an Honorary Sustainer in JLGR until her death and helped the League celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1975.
Though she was a strong supporter of her husband’s career, Betty was not afraid to differ from the positions of her own party—even when she was still in the White House. So it was with her support of the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion rights, and pay equity for women.
She also stepped out of the shadows of personal trauma to create lasting legacies in breast cancer prevention and addiction treatment. Her successful recovery from breast cancer in 1974 led to the formation of the Betty Ford Breast Care Services at Spectrum Health, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit healthcare provider. The recovery was painful, though, and it left Betty addicted to alcohol and painkillers. Her subsequent success in overcoming her addictions inspired her to create the Betty Ford Center for the treatment of chemical dependency in Rancho Mirage, California.
A complex woman of many achievements, Betty was not afraid to speak her mind.