In some ways, Betty Ford (1918-2011) seemed before her time. She revealed more of her personal life -- including her battles with breast cancer and alcoholism -- than any president's wife before her, and more than many since. If you had to place her in history, she might situate her in the 90s, amid the ascent of the memoir and the birth of reality TV, when self-revelation became so au courant.
Instead she became the candid, open FLOTUS that she was in the 70's, and rather than sparking a decade of collective navel-gazing, her experiences inspired a whole generation to get regular breast exams and seek treatment for addiction.
Ford was also very outspoken in her opinions, openly supporting abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment. "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.
The TODAY show's retrospective below recalls these aspects of Ford's life and many other ways in which she was totally unprecedented and remarkable. The video also toward the end notes her part in what was, by all appearances, one of the most loving marriages in political history.
We're not talking an "isn't-my-husband-so-wonderful-and-accomplished-don't-mind-me" loving marriage. Gerald and Betty Ford seem to have had an actual partnership. Ford openly disagreed with her husband -- after all, why shouldn't she have the right to speak her mind? She also hinted publicly at her own sexual appetite. In 1975, she famously told McCall's magazine that if a reporter asked her how frequently she slept with her husband, "I would have told them." Her answer? "As often as possible."
The physical closeness between her and her husband, the way they joked, his willingness to let her speak not only for herself but for both of them: All suggest that, in addition to her many other accomplishments, Betty Ford managed to do in love what a lot of people can't: first, marry the right spouse; second, derive genuine fulfillment from marriage (bonus points for it being a political marriage); third, retain a complete, in-tact sense of self while married; fourth, keep a marriage together while overcoming enormous personal challenges.
Betty, we salute you for all of the above.
What's your favorite memory of Betty Ford?