It was probably not until she died the other day that a lot of people stopped to reflect on what an impressive and important life Betty Ford had led. Introduced to the country in 1975, she was as likable as her husband and more outspoken, a freer thinker. Gerald Ford's two years in office ended in 1977, but his wife's public life had barely begun. She soon announced that she was addicted to pills and alcohol and was checking in for treatment. In 1982 she cofounded the Betty Ford Clinic, into which the rich and famous, and thousands of other addicts, have been checking ever since. If the center's cachet has made it an almost risibly fashionable name for celebrities to drop, well, so much the better for every noncelebrity with an abuse problem struggling to confront himself in the mirror.
I'd forgotten this, but my family had a brush with Betty Ford. While her husband was president, my brother Peter acted in a play produced at the University of Kansas that was invited to a theater festival at Washington's Kennedy Center. My father was very ill, but my parents were determined to come, and so was I. Peter just wrote me reminiscing.
It's been nice to hear the encomiums sung for Betty Ford, while recalling my indebtedness to her. You may remember that she was responsible for putting Dad and Mom...and you in the President's box of the Eisenhower Theatre for KU's production of Con Personas. It was only on a whim that I wrote her weeks before going to Washington, DC, telling her about Dad's health and his politics, and hoping that she might be able to arrange for my parents to use her box. I promptly forgot about my request until weeks later, when our cast entered the theatre through the stage door and I was handed a telephone number to call. Suddenly I'm talking to the White House, and Betty Ford's assistant is telling me , "Mrs. Ford would be pleased to know that your parents will be using her box." Of course, I had to request a ticket for you (No problem), and then I had to call back to request another ticket for the friend of a cast member (Again, no problem.) Easily one of the most satisfying moments of my life, and all because of a whim and a very decent woman.