Betty Ford's Legacy: Reflections From The Web
Former First Lady Betty Ford, who inspired millions with her candid, taboo-breaking public discussions of prescription drug addiction, breast cancer and women’s rights, died Friday at the age of 93. Her passing has sparked nationwide reflection on her role in bringing socially unmentionable causes, many of which are still heavily stigmatized, to the center of public dialog.
The greatest symbol of her legacy may be the Betty Ford Center, a rehab facility in Rancho Mirage that has paved the way to recovery for such high-profile people as Kelsey Grammer, Johnny Cash, Elizabeth Taylor, Steven Tyler, Etta James and Ali McGraw.
Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1974 and captured the nation’s attention by speaking openly about her treatment. Her obituary in the L.A. Times expounds upon her importance in creating awareness of the disease:
At that time, breast cancer was a taboo subject, so it was remarkable news that she not only disclosed the illness but openly talked about it and her treatment. "It's hard for anyone born perhaps after 1980 or even in 1970 to understand that these things were not talked about," Dr. Patricia Ganz, director of cancer prevention and control research at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, told The Times in 2006.
"They were very stigmatizing. A woman didn't dare mention to her friends, employer, extended family that she had breast cancer," Ganz said. Ford's belief that if it could happen to her, "it could happen to anyone," heightened public awareness of the disease. The American Cancer Society reported a 400% increase in requests about breast cancer screenings, and tens of thousands of women sought mammograms. Among those helped by her frank attitude was Happy Rockefeller, the wife of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, who discovered she had breast cancer and subsequently underwent a mastectomy.
The public outpouring led Ford to realize that when she spoke, people listened. For the rest of her White House days, she would use her position as a bully pulpit to advance the causes and issues she believed in.
Many of the celebrities who owe their recoveries in part to the Betty Ford center honored Ford on Friday, writes the Associated Press. "She changed so many of our lives with her courage and intelligence, her honesty and humility, and her deep grace," said Ali McGraw. "Her vision impacted my own life as few people have."
Ford was First Lady at a time when the nation was reeling from the political upheaval that resulted from the Watergate scandal. Eleanor Clift, writing for the Daily Beast, reflects on Ford’s ability to transcend politics at such a tumultuous time: “Betty Ford was always true to herself, and in politics that’s not easy. Sometimes to the chagrin of her husband, and certainly to his advisers, she had something to say on just about every hot-button issue of her time.”
She is also famous for her support of the Equal Rights Ammendment, which made her a hero in the eyes of women's right activists. Writes Eleanor Smeal:"She inspired. She made a difference for millions of women. Those of us who were privileged to work with her appreciated and admired her."
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