State and Local Legal Blog

Betty Ford

July 9, 2011
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I found myself writing about Betty Ford on my personal blog ( and it struck me that I might mention a few thoughts here.  Presidents leave a legacy good or bad.  Often first ladies do not.  Lady Bird, one of my favorite “first ladies” left a legacy of “wildflowers” which has now evolved into the beautification of our streets, highways and infrastructure.  Going back a bit, Dolly Madison was the ice-cream maven. President Truman’s wife is rarely remembered, although his daughter, Bess, was remembered as a vocalist (and perhaps not a very good one) and a mystery author (better at that!).

But Betty Ford – Betty Ford was real, and she didn’t mind sharing her foibles with the nation.  Why?  Because it might help others.  Her battle with breast cancer raised visibility for this debilitating and often deadly disease.  While many women have difficulty coping with prostheses for the breast, Betty Ford talked about hers!  And through the spotlight which followed her and her illness, thousands of American women made mammogram appointments and began a “tradition” of regular mammograms. There can be no statistics on lives saved as a result of Betty Ford’s breast cancer, but there would have been no lives lost if she hadn’t believed in the strength of sharing her troubles in order to save others.

The same thing with abuse.  Whether it is alcohol, prescription pain medication, illegal drugs or any scheduled substance, abuse of the “self-medication of choice” is often just as deadly as breast cancer.  With normally much more of a social stigma.  If a first lady can say:  “yes, I have an addiction problem” and “I’m going to get help”, this in itself must have made the act of acknowledgement and obtaining treatment less difficult for others.

Think of the legacy of the Betty Ford Clinic.  It’s cultural shorthand for getting treatment.  And the ultimate result is terrific.  Thank you Betty Ford.


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