Betty Ford’s openness, honesty is a model

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A memorial service was held last Wednesday for former first lady Betty Ford at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif. Present were top political and government officials. She was remembered as an outspoken, transparent woman who advocated for women’s rights and bravely fought her own battles against cancer and alcohol addiction.

Delivering the first eulogy, former first lady Rosalynn Carter said Betty was “an excellent role model and a hard act to follow. Millions are forever in her debt today because she was never afraid to tell the truth.”

Betty’s eldest son, Mike Ford, brought out some religious strength his mother exhibited. “Faith, hope, and love, three remarkable qualities of the human spirit. Qualities that we as her family have seen and experienced in mom throughout her entire life. Mom’s faith was especially evidenced through her personal renewal in faith late in her life at the beginning of her recovery from her dependency on alcohol and prescription drugs.”

His mother and father shared “a beautiful journey … as husband and wife faithfully, standing by each other through the hard times, through the good times, through the challenges, through the crucibles of life only to grow stronger in their devotion to one another and closer in their united love,” Mike Ford said.

“We know of her hope that each of us as family might discover and embrace that special call of God on our lives and for our futures,” he said. “Bringing good out of evil, healing out of brokenness, joy and dancing, yes dancing, she was quite a dancer . . . Bringing dancing out of sorrow. We know of her love for dad, or as she called him ‘my boyfriend’ for 58 years of marriage.

“We know of mom’s love for her family, each one of us, as her children, son and daughters in laws, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, we each have our own stories . . . How she loved us, how she took the time to get to know us . . . We know of Mom’s love for others, whether a friend in need or a patient at the Betty Ford Center, mom extended herself freely, she extended herself freely in love.”

Betty Ford had handpicked most of the speakers before her death. Ford asked NPR news analyst and ABC News political commentator Cokie Roberts to eulogize her and even gave “instructions.” She specified five years ago that the eulogy should be about the power of friendship to mend political differences even in these hyper-partisan times.

Ford asked her to talk about a time in Washington when Democrats and Republicans could be friends and partisan politics did not paralyze government. Roberts’ father, Democratic Congressman Hale Boggs of Louisiana, was House majority leader and Republican Gerald R. Ford was House minority leader. She said they could argue about issues but get together as friends afterward. The two families became close as did the Ford and Carter families, despite Jimmy Carter defeating Ford in the 1976 presidential election.

“She wanted me to talk about being friends across the aisle, and how it made it easier to govern,” Roberts said. “Political wives were absolutely essential to their relationship.”

Betty Ford is a good model for all of us today. Like her, may we learn to bring good out of every evil situation, healing out of brokenness, joy and dancing out of sorrow. May we also be transparent, not letting setbacks keep us from being the persons God wants us to be. May we discover how we can disagree with others without letting our differences interfere with friendship. May all politicians learn that the good of the country must always come before party politics.

Thank you, Betty, for sharing your struggles with us and making a difference.