Saturday, July 16, 2011

Post No. 169: She was No Madonna, or Even a Selena, but She was a Heck of a First Lady…

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We’re about to deviate from 2 long-standing practices. First, we don’t usually write about people who recently passed. We leave that to the professionals. However, in this instance, we were concerned that the public might not appreciate who this grand lady was, and what she did, considering its obsession with Casey Anthony, and the phone hacking efforts of pulp rags to get the juice on private citizens.

Second, we avoid getting into discussions about “role models.” We are members of the Charles Barkley School and believe that parents and teachers should be role models, and not public figures, such as entertainers and athletes.

But we made an exception this time, because an exceptional woman, who was an equal team member in her partnership with her husband, recently left our ranks – Elizabeth “Betty” Ford.

We’ve always been fans of independent women who are strong enough to do the unexpected, and deal with the consequences, such as:

(a) Cornelia Wallace (who at the age of 33, and realizing that Alabama Gov. George Wallace had been shot and that his bodyguard was also injured, threw herself over her husband’s body to shield him from further injury. She then endured the abuse and anger of this paralyzed man during his rehabilitation years); and

(b) Katharine Graham, who (after years of being a rich, pampered debutante with no apparent marketable skills), allowed her mentally ill, cheating husband to return to their home, later witness his suicide over the weekend while he was on leave from the sanitarium, and then march into The Washington Post on Monday morning, and say (paraphrasing), “I’ve got a newspaper to run, and I don’t have a clue what to do. I have a lot to learn quickly.”

We were also big fans of Betty Ford. She was a dancer, who taught dance to disabled kids, and along the way became a model. She danced for 38 of her first 46 years on this earth, until she pinched a nerve while lifting a window. Thus began the start of her addiction to prescription painkillers. While in the White House, she added alcohol to her daily diet.

Shortly after the Fords moved into the White House following the resignation of Richard Nixon, doctors found a malignant tumor in her breast, which led to a radical mastectomy and chemotherapy. Although still a relatively taboo subject, she chose to reveal her illness and talk about her treatment.

Following her husband’s defeat to Jimmy Carter, her addictions to alcohol and pills became worse. Her family ultimately conducted an intervention. Although initially angry at, and resentful of, the participants, she found a way to put that anger, as one of our Mothers used to say, in her hip pocket and fart on it. She publicly announced that she had a problem and checked herself into a hospital.

We will not try to recount all the things she did during her life. An article in the Los Angeles Times succinctly outlines her contributions to society.

According to it, John Greene, a historian who also wrote a Ford biography, said, “Rarely does anyone’s name become a noun. [However,] [e]veryone knows what you’re talking about if you say, ‘I’m going to Betty Ford.’”

We often refer to the governance model of the United States as the “herding cats” model. During the 27 times we read the article, it occurred to us that one of the beauties of existing in a representative democracy (where so much emphasis is placed on freedom to think, live, learn, explore, and express one’s self), and at the same time, one of the systemic challenges in terms of governing such citizens, is that each one of us is a very complex being, molded by our experiences, with disparate motivations and priorities.

Trying to pigeonhole or lump us into groups, or define us, or apply labels, is inherently… problematic, and probably inaccurate, and should be left to advertising pros.

When someone connected with politics dies, we frequently see their predecessors and colleagues attend their memorial service or funeral. It was no different here. In the pew sat former First Ladies Rosalind Carter, Nancy Reagan, and Hillary Clinton, and current First Lady Michelle Obama. In most cases, press agents and protocol dictate their attendance. But we sensed something a tad different here. Their faces, body language, comments, and eyes suggested sincerity, and the lack of a philosophical divide amongst them about the greatness of this woman.

Under a “herding cats” governance model, it is noteworthy when people of different faiths, walks of life, and philosophical points of view, come together and celebrate the good that's possible in us all despite philosophical differences. Perhaps our current political leaders could learn something from these First Ladies.

Thank you Betty Ford – for simply being you.


  1. 'Spector,

    It is indeed a pity that her contributions were overshadowed by the clouds of doubt and hints of questionable deal-making which surrounded her husband's ascendancy to the Executive Office.

    At the time, I thought it was disgraceful that a First Lady would make public her addictions. In the ensuing decades, however, I have come to realize how strong she had to be to do that, and to found an addiction treatment clinic to boot. My hat is off to you, dear Mrs. Ford, and may you rest in peace.

    And thanks to you, Inspector, for reminding us of her exemple.

    The Independent Cuss

  2. Thank YOU, Independent Cuss. The ability of humans to adapt, and change our way of thinking is a very powerful force.


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