A first lady who overcame breast cancer and addictions became an inspiration for many Americans.
Former TV news anchor and reporter McCubbin (co-author, with Clint Hill: Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, 2016, etc.) felt the spirit of Betty Ford (1918-2011) encouraging her as she wrote. “There is little doubt in my mind,” she writes, “that she orchestrated this entire process.” Drawing largely on Ford’s two memoirs and interviews with her children and others close to her, the author fashions an admiring portrait of a woman who faced physical and emotional challenges. A former dancer and model, Betty was a divorced 30-year-old when she married Michigan lawyer Gerald Ford and soon followed him to Washington, D.C., after he won a congressional seat. Being a Washington wife could be difficult: As Jerry’s political responsibilities increased, he traveled constantly, leaving Betty with four active children and the feeling that “the more important her husband became, the less important she was.” Low self-esteem, though, did not keep her from campaigning energetically for Jerry, entertaining, and participating in various clubs and organizations. At home, a full-time housekeeper compensated for a mother who “wasn’t emotionally available” to her children. Despite persistent stage fright, Betty spoke publicly in support of women’s equality, abortion, and even premarital sex, earning praise for her forthright revelation about her bout with breast cancer. In 1964, a pinched nerve caused overwhelming chronic pain, precipitating Betty’s reliance on painkillers, which escalated so dramatically that by 1977, she swallowed handfuls of pills morning and night, along with more than a few drinks. Besides pain, she suffered from depression, which McCubbin does not deeply probe. Although she portrays the couple as deeply devoted, as Betty sank into alcoholism and drug dependency, Jerry refused to confront the problem. Like many families of addicts, different members took on “various codependent roles in order to cope: enabler, hero, scapegoat, lost child, mascot.” Finally overcoming her addictions, Betty went on to co-found a well-regarded treatment center.
A warmly sympathetic biography of a spirited woman.