While Remembering a President, Don't Forget the Contributions of the First Lady
> 1/2/2007 10:37:25 AM

This week has seen many heartfelt and thoughtful ruminations and memorials on the life of President Gerald Ford. Having served an important role in healing our country after the Watergate scandals and Vietnam War, Ford was an effective if never wildly popular leader. He is survived by four children and his wife of 58 years, Betty Ford. This strong, honest woman has created a legacy all her own, and in so doing has done more to foster greater understanding of healthcare and specifically substance abuse than almost any other American. Newsweek recently ran an excellent retrospective on First Lady Ford's life and accomplishments. It is important that while we remember President Ford, we also pay homage to the achievements of his wife.

Betty Ford was able to turn her own personal struggles into tools to educate the public. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy in 1974, Ford was very candid about the disease and her treatment, something not typically seen at the time. Her openness changed the standard dialogue about the disease. She later acted similarly, disclosing her struggles with alcoholism and pain killer abuse. After the Ford family staged an intervention in 1978, Betty faced her problems and eventually recovered. This incident led to Ford's founding of the Betty Ford Center for drug and alcohol treatment. The Center, where Betty served as chairman of the board, is virtually synonymous with drug and alcohol treatment, especially for higher profile individuals and celebrities.

Betty Ford is an excellent example of a woman who used her platform as a national leader to effect positive changes around the country. By speaking openly and honestly about the issues that effected her life, and by using her resources to work toward change, Ford helped establish a healthier dialogue around cancer and abuse. She was an outspoken proponent of psychiatry whose support has only helped to raise public awareness about mental health issues. With fondness we look back on the life of President Gerald Ford, but we can continue to thank and appreciate all that Betty Ford has done and continues to do to make this a better world.

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