Above: Betty Ford as First Lady
Image Source = Library of Congress
ELIZABETH ANN BLOOMER WARREN FORD (APRIL 8, 1918-JULY 8, 2011)
First Lady of the United States of America, 1974-1977
Advocate for Social Justice
Challenger of Stigmas
Elizabeth Ann Bloomer was born at Chicago, Illinois, on April 8, 1918. She grew up at Grand Rapids, Michigan, where her father, Stephenson Bloomer, Sr., died when she was sixteen years old. Graduating from high school during the Great Depression, she taught dancing to children, worked with troubled children, and even studied dance under Martha Graham, the great choreographer.
The saint (I have declared her to be one) married twice. Her first marriage (1942-1947) was to William C. Warren, an insurance salesman. William was also a cruel man and an alcoholic, unfortunately. Her second marriage (1948-2006) lasted fifty-eight years, however. That husband was Gerald Ford (https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2009/09/15/feast-of-gerald-r-ford-december-26-transferred-to-december-23/), attorney, U.S. Representative, Vice President, President, and decent human being. They had three sons and a daughter.
Betty Ford was controversial during the 1970s, when she was Second then First Lady. A feminist, she favored the Equal Rights Amendment, which did not gain enough support to become part of the Constitution. She also held a libertarian position (pro-choice) on abortion and a non-libertarian position on gun control. Her greatest contribution to the nation, I argue, came from her treatment of cancer, psychiatric treatment, and alcoholism. As First Lady Betty Ford shared the fact that she had breast cancer. She also countered strong stigma against mental illness, speaking out for psychiatric treatment. And, as a recently former First Lady, she admitted to her alcoholism and entered a treatment program. Then, in 1982, she founded the Betty Ford Center at Rancho Mirage, California.
Betty Ford received many honers, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991. All such honors she deserved. The final honors came in two proper Episcopal funerals–the first at St. Margaret’s Church, Palm Desert, where she and the former President had been parishioners, and the second at Grace Church, Grand Rapids, where they had married.
Today we know that addiction is a matter of altered brain chemistry. It is not merely a matter of a weak will. Science argues against old attitudes and stigma in this case and in the matter of mental illness, which is also physical, as the brain is part of the human body. Ford’s work in advocating psychiatric treatment dovetailed nicely with the related efforts of her successor as First Lady, Rosalynn Carter, relative to mental illness. May we recall that, in 1972, Democratic Presidential nominee George McGovern had to drop his first running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton, from the ticket because Eagleton had once undergone psychiatric treatment. Public attitudes were backward relative to what they are now. And Betty Ford played a prominent role in changing them for the better.
So I add her to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days. Saints did not live only long ago, in ages past. Some have been our contemporaries.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JUNE 5, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF ROBERT FRANCIS KENNEDY, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL AND SENATOR
THE FEAST OF SAINT BONIFACE OF MAINZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
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O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served,
and to give his life for the life of the world.
Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.
Through us give hope to the hopeless,
love to the unloved,
peace to the troubled, and
rest to the weary,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
—Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60