Betty Ford

Betty Ford

The LBJ Library and Johnson Family Remember Betty Ford

Jul 08, 2011

The Ford and Johnson families shared a long history, from the halls of Congress to the White House. The Library and Johnson family remember Betty Ford for her gracious manner, bravery in the face of adversity, independent spirit, and contributions to this country.

Quote from Lynda Johnson Robb

“Betty Ford was a dear friend to all the Johnsons. Luci and I went to Michigan for an event that she hosted on First families. She knew that we all shared the same trials and triumphs. She was a joy to be around whether it was visiting with her in the White House or campaigning together for the Equal Rights Amendment in 1969. We will miss her touch.” - Lynda Johnson Robb

She Made a Difference

In this moving remembrance, Luci Baines Johnson describes a day she and her family spent with Mrs. Ford at the White House and how that afternoon made a difference in her life.

There have been many tributes over recent days about Betty Bloomer Ford. Each are as special as the relationship Mrs. Ford shared with the teller.

I am just one of thousands of people Mrs. Ford touched, but I will always love her for making a difference in my life. My father, Lyndon Johnson, spent his adult life serving his country in the United States Capitol. After his death, he was memorialized with a grove of trees named for him near the footsteps of the Pentagon. It was our family’s hope that those wrestling with the magnitude of problems of state could find peace and inspiration in this quiet space.

President Ford had served in Congress with Daddy. While they were political adversaries, they and their wives were personal friends. Therefore, we were therefore especially thrilled when President Ford came to the dedication ceremonies of the LBJ Grove. We never thought anything about why Mrs. Ford had not come. She had invited us to come to the residence of the White House for tea that afternoon.  

After a celebration lunch in Vice President Nelson Rockefeller’s home, my Mother, sister Lynda and her husband, and I went to the White House, giddy as school kids on a field trip. We were thrilled to have been asked to come see these private rooms we had once called home.

I’ll never forget Mrs. Ford’s hug when I walked through the door. Her first words to me were “Welcome home!” She asked if I would 2 like to see my old room and made sure I got to see some of the White House staff I had known and loved.

Mrs. Ford and her daughter, Susan, were the most gracious hosts. They opened up their home and hearts to us as if they had nothing in the world to do except make us feel special on this very memorable day in our lives. We exchanged stories about raising teen-aged girls in the White House and laughed until tears came to our eyes. First families share a unique bond, even if they don’t share the same politics.

I don’t remember any sense of pressure to leave. It was as if it were a family reunion with the luxury of no time limitations and no conflict, only precious memories. But Mother, recognizing that every First Lady is on a schedule, soon lovingly made our goodbyes. We rushed home to see if there were any clips on the news about the Grove dedication.The first news we saw was video of Mrs. Ford leaving the White House for the hospital suitcase in hand. She was on her way for a mastectomy.

This day was special in her family’s life too. It was the last day before major surgery for a very frightening cancer. All Mrs. Ford would have had to do was to send word that something had come up, and she’d had to cancel. As members of a First family we would have understood, or she could have had a staff person greet us. No explanation would have been asked or expected. First families are into empathizing with each other, not judging.  But instead, on her big day, she was thinking about our big day. She made sure nothing rained on our parade.

She made sure we felt understood and important that dedication day. And from that day onward as First Lady, and for the rest of 3 her life, she made sure families with breast cancer and chemical dependencies felt her understanding and empathy. Mrs. Ford didn’t want anyone to feel like they were an outsider- -not a former first family, not a breast cancer patient, not an alcoholic, not a person suffering any addiction.

Regardless of who you were, she invited you in. She put her arm around you, and laughed, and cried, and cheered you on. It has been said in the end, what is important, is to have made a difference. She made that difference in my life, and in the lives of countless others.  I will miss her. But she lives on in a world made better than she found it. She taught us how to understand ourselves and each other. She gave hope to the hopeless and empathy to those needing a friend.

Mother died almost four years to the day before Mrs. Ford. And I believe Mama was probably at the front door to Heaven, welcoming Mrs. Ford to the final home they share saying, “Welcome Home.”

An Independent Woman: Remembering Betty Ford

LBJ Library Director Mark Updegrove wrote extensively about President and Mrs. Ford in his book Second Acts. In this tribute, Updegrove remembers Betty Ford, who danced to her own beat.

When we learned last week that Betty Ford had died, the remembrances were of the wife who stood beside Gerald Ford and the woman who founded the Betty Ford Center. But as I discovered as I was researching by book, Second Acts, Betty Ford was a thoroughly modern first lady--and among the most progressive we've ever had in the White House. During her brief turn as first lady in the height of the "Swinging Seventies," Mrs. Ford was an outspoken supporter of an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, and of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial 1973 ruling on abortion. She was also a pragmatic suburban mom, allowing in a "Sixty Minutes" interview, that she wouldn't be surprised if her 18 year-old daughter, Susan, had had an affair, and speculating that her kids had tried marijuana while surmising that she"probably" would have tried it at their age, too. President Ford only half-jokingly calculated the damage those remarks would heap on his support among conservatives.

When she had a mastectomy two months after moving into the White House, she dealt with it publicly, using her ordeal as a means of raising awareness about breast cancer. Afterward, the number of women requesting breast exams soared. Several years after leaving the White House, Mrs. Ford dealt with an addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs just as openly, eventually lending her name and prodigious efforts to the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California. Her work to promote treatment for addiction, bringing it irrevocably out of the shadows of disgrace, may make her among the most influential first ladies in our history. 

As a girl, Betty Bloomer dreamed of being a dancer, later leading her to New York, where she studied with Martha Graham. Years later, as Mrs. Ford wistfully toured the White House on her last full day as first lady in January 1977, she confided to her friend, photographer David Hume Kennerly, that she had always wanted to dance on the Cabinet Room table. At Kennerly's urging, she hopped up on the table and gracefully executed a perfect pirouette, leaving a first lady's foot prints where they likely had never been before. The moment provided a classic photograph by Kennerly, as well as a metaphor: The independent Betty Ford danced to her own beat--and she left her mark. - Mark K. Updegrove, Director, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum

Betty Ford Memorial Website

The memorial website for Mrs. Ford can be found at: read more