New bio re­veals more of Betty Ford

Ford chil­dren and oth­ers of­fer new per­spec­tives

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - BOOKS - Su­san Page

The ad­jec­tive most of­ten as­so­ci­ated with Betty Ford was can­dor.

She was can­did about her sup­port of abor­tion rights and the Equal Rights Amend­ment, about the breast can­cer she bat­tled as first lady, and, fi­nally, about her strug­gle with ad­dic­tion to al­co­hol and pre­scrip­tion drugs.

In “Betty Ford: First Lady, Women’s Ad­vo­cate, Sur­vivor, Trail­blazer” (Gallery Books, 432 pp., ★★g☆), author Lisa McCub­bin of­fers the first full-length bi­og­ra­phy of the for­mer first lady (who died in 2011 at age 93) in more than a decade. The writ­ing is full of cliches and the book is drawn in large part from the two mem­oirs Ford wrote, “The Times of My Life” (1978) and “Betty: A Glad Awak­en­ing” (1987). Those flaws aside, McCub­bin has in­ter­viewed the Ford chil­dren and oth­ers who were there, and she of­fers a poignant ac­count of the fam­ily in­ter­ven­tion that prompted Ford to fi­nally ad­dress her ad­dic­tion.

Here’s what we learn in the book:

Wash­ing­ton used to be dif­fer­ent.

When Ger­ald Ford was a Michi­gan con­gress­man, he and his wife were friends with other young cou­ples across party lines. They in­cluded ev­ery­one from Richard and Pat Nixon to John and Jackie Kennedy to Lyn­don and Lady Bird John­son. The cap­i­tal wasn’t yet seized by the po­lar­iza­tion that freezes it now. That af­fected Betty Ford’s re­ac­tion to the news that Nixon had lied about be­ing in­volved in the Water­gate scan­dal and would have to re­sign, mak­ing Ger­ald

Ford pres­i­dent. She felt “ter­ri­bly sad” for the Nixons, wor­ry­ing about how this would af­fect them, not her.

Se­cret Ser­vice agents are there to keep their charges safe, not to make them be­have.

When Su­san Ford was a teenager and prone to an­tics, the agents didn’t stop her; they just made sure she didn’t get in harm’s way. Years later, agents were

aware of Betty Ford’s strug­gle with ad­dic­tion but ap­par­ently didn’t ad­dress it or raise con­cerns with oth­ers to do so.

Al­li­ga­tors do not make good pets.

When his father was in Congress, Steve Ford once got a “small al­li­ga­tor” as a pet, which pre­dictably grew larger and less cute and once had to be fished out of the swim­ming pool. Steve was sup­posed to bring the al­li­ga­tor’s pen into the base­ment each night, a task that of­ten fell to his mother. One night, Betty Ford de­cided to for­get to do that. The next morn­ing, the al­li­ga­tor had frozen to death.

The code name for the White House is ...

The Se­cret Ser­vice calls the pres­i­dent’s res­i­dence “Crown.” Which seems at odds with a na­tion founded by break­ing from monar­chy.

LUCY NI­CHOL­SON/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

For­mer pres­i­dent Ger­ald R. Ford and his wife Betty Ford at­tend a cock­tail party in 2000 at the Carousel of Hope, a star-stud­ded gala ben­e­fit­ing child­hood di­a­betes, in Bev­erly Hills, Calif.

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