07/09/11 — About Betty: She did it her way -- and blazed a trail

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About Betty: She did it her way -- and blazed a trail

If you are not from that generation, you probably are wondering why so many people are so enamored with Betty Ford, and why her loss is being noted by so many.

After all, she was simply a first lady -- one of many to grace the White House.

The answer is simple. Mrs. Ford was a maverick at a time when it was just beginning to be fashionable to be one, and a strong woman at a time when women were just beginning to understand they had a power to make a difference and to direct their own lives.

She was a first lady who admitted to failings and who shared those missteps with a nation when it wasn't easy to do so.

She was a person who said what she thought, did what she wanted, and yet managed to remain a loyal and devoted spouse to her husband for 58 years. In this day of disposable marriages, that in itself is a milestone of note.

But it was her vulnerability as a person and her strength of character that made Betty Ford someone so many looked up to.

She easily could have hidden behind her celebrity when she entered treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. She could have denied she had a problem or claimed the need for privacy.

She didn't. She told the world about her problem, shared the steps of her recovery and made it easier for millions of Americans to seek help without the shame of being labeled weak and worthless.

After all, if the first lady could admit she had a problem, why couldn't anyone else do so, too?

Mrs. Ford also could have kept her battle with breast cancer to herself. It had to have been a painful time, a rough fight and a scary diagnosis at a time when cancer research was not to the point where hope for survival was the first thought.

But she didn't. She was scared, brave, angry and hopeful in public when the cameras were on, when her words could be comfort and inspiration for millions of others suffering the same fate.

Mrs. Ford was an original, a woman with her own mind who was not merely a reflection of her husband's views. She said what she thought and encouraged others to do the same.

There will be many more people with more significant contributions to the world who will leave us in the coming years.

But what made 93-year-old Betty Ford special is that she did not think she was one of those luminaries, one of those special, privileged people.

She was one of us -- alternately proud and vulnerable. And that is why her loss has impacted so many.

There was no gild on this lily -- just plain, simple, honest dignity. And there is no better compliment.

Published in Editorials on July 9, 2011 11:16 PM