Despite her addiction to alcohol and pain killers, Betty Ford, the former First Lady of the United States, was a healthy, positive role model to women. One of our favorites, in fact. President Obama even called her a powerful advocate for women’s health and women’s rights, and while we don’t always agree with his views, the news of her passing this weekend reminded us of just how powerful of a role model she was, indeed.
Here are some of the life lessons that come to mind that Betty Ford taught us over the course of her 93 years:
Stand up for what you believe in. During her husband’s political tenure as Congressman and President, Betty Ford was described as the “fighting first lady” by Time magazine due to her outspoken views (which often openly differed from Gerald Ford’s) on politics, society and women’s rights. “I think it’s time that the women step up and take their place,” she said in one White House press conference. In addition, she was an advocate on the abortion front in an era when little was publicly discussed on this issue, and she was an avid supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and took to working the phones herself during the mid 1970s to get states to pass this law.
Maintain a sense of yourself. Even though she took many stands against her husband’s views and his Republican party, Ford maintained that she was simply doing what felt right and important to her. “Why should my husband’s job, or yours, prevent us from being ourselves?” Ford said in a speech before the International Women’s Year Conference in 1975.
Be honest about yourself. Betty Ford was probably the most honest and forthcoming First Lady in history. She openly shared the struggles in her own life, including drug and alcohol addiction, as well as difficulties in her family, including marijuana use and sexual behavior from her children. There were no cover-ups.
Be at cause with your life. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer and courageously underwent surgery and treatment, Ford became an early campaigner against this disease. She used her bout with cancer to raise awareness, and her frank discussions have since encouraged women everywhere to seek regular breast exams and screenings.
Persevere in tough times. Battling a public struggle with alcoholism as First Lady was one Ford fought with strength, determination and grace. It was this experience that led her to eventually open the Betty Ford Center in California helping to provide treatment to thousands of women. “Having this happen to me has been the best thing in the world,” she said.
It’s no wondered that some referred to her as President Gerald Ford’s biggest asset.
Rest in peace, Mrs. Ford. You will be missed.