New bio reveals more of Betty Ford
Ford children and others offer new perspectives
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.
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.