Season of Gratitude, Reflection for Former First Daughter Susan Ford Bales

Trustee of the Hazelden Betty Foundation Remembers White House Holidays and Honors Family Friend Rosalynn Carter

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
5 min readNov 30, 2023
Front (left) and back of the 2023 White House Christmas Ornament

If you visit any U.S. Post Office this busy holiday season, you may notice a name especially dear and familiar to the millions of Americans in recovery from addiction. That’s because the 2023 White House Christmas Ornament — now for sale in Post Offices across the country — honors former President Gerald Ford and his family, including First Lady Betty Ford, namesake of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the nation’s nonprofit leader in substance use and mental health care.

The limited-edition ornament is in the form of a wreath — adorned with details inspired by the handcrafted Christmas ornaments Betty Ford hung in the White House from 1974 to 1977. Proceeds go to the nonprofit, nonpartisan White House Historical Association to help preserve the history of the White House.

“This year’s ornament is so special,” says Susan Ford Bales, daughter to President and Mrs. Ford and Trustee of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, in a video announcing the ornament. “It brings back so many … memories of my White House days and my parents, and it will always have a very special place on my tree.”

Susan Ford Bales (right, in 1975, with her mother Betty Ford) shares memories of the holidays spent in the White House in this video unveiling the 2023 White House Christmas ornament, which honors President Gerald Ford and the Ford family.

Ford Bales, who helped with the design and details of the ornament, added in an article for White House History Quarterly: “Thank you to the White House Historical Association for the 2023 White House Ornament, and for bringing joy to my heart and, yes, tears of pride to my cheeks. Thank you for honoring our 38th President and his beloved wife, Betty, and the nation they faithfully served with integrity and grace.”

Work on the White House Ornament led Ford Bales to join the White House Historical Association’s Stewart McLaurin for two recent interviews:

  • An episode of the “The White House 1600 Sessions” in which she returns to her childhood home in Alexandria, Va., for the first time in 40 years to share stories and discuss her role in carrying on her parents’ legacies, including her work with Hazelden Betty Ford. Fun fact: the home served as the White House for a few weeks before the Ford family was able to move to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 1974.
  • And an episode of Conqu’ring Heroes, a Michigan Athletics podcast hosted by Jon Jansen, who talked to Ford Bales and McLaurin about a number of subjects starting with Gerald Ford’s career as a Michigan Wolverine football player and MVP of the 1934 team.

The White House Historical Association also featured a recent livestreamed interview with Ford family photographer David Hume Kennerly as well as numerous posts about Betty Ford. The posts, encompassing her entire life and legacy, put a spotlight on Betty Ford: Activist First Lady.

In addition, Ford Bales appeared recently on Newsmax’s Conversations with Nancy Brinker. Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer organization and is a longtime family friend. They too spoke about the White House and the lasting impacts of Gerald and Betty Ford’s work, including Mrs. Ford’s world-changing advocacy for both breast cancer screening and addiction treatment.

(L) Susan Ford Bales and Rosalynn Carter. (R) Rosalynn Carter and Betty Ford.

Amid all of this activity, Ford Bales learned about the passing of Rosalynn Carter, who succeeded Betty Ford as First Lady in 1977 and later became a close friend and collaborator as the two advocated together as a bipartisan duo for addiction treatment and mental health care.

Prior to attending Mrs. Carter’s memorial service in Atlanta, Ford Bales said in a public statement:

“Mrs. Carter was blessed with the gift of years. For decades, the lives of tens of millions of Americans and countless millions around the world were graced by her compassion, courage, and determination to help others. She and my mother were powerful partners in advocating for expanded insurance coverage for Americans in need of mental health and substance use care. And the light of Mrs. Carter’s legacy, especially her tireless work for improved treatments and understanding of mental health challenges, will shine brightly for generations to come.

“The love she shared with President Carter is a wonderful testament to their mutual devotion and one that brought joy to everyone fortunate enough to have witnessed them during their seventy seven year journey together. Her friendship with Mom, Dad, and our family has been a blessing for which no words can adequately describe. She will be missed, but the joy of her great works and special friendship will always live on — always.

“On behalf of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, I send our prayers and deepest condolences to President Carter and the Carter family.”

Rosalynn Carter and Betty Ford hold a press conference (Robert Dupont, MD, also participates) on March 7, 1994, to encourage inclusion of mental health and substance use treatment benefits in the national health care reform plan. They also co-authored a USA Today op-ed that week and testified before a Congressional committee the next day, the only time in U.S. history that two First Ladies delivered testimony on the same issue before the same committee.

In the wake of Mrs. Carter’s death, many news outlets (e.g. Washington Post 1 & 2, CBS News, USA Today, People, WTOP, WZZM) highlighted her relationship with Mrs. Ford and the two pioneering women’s work tackling stigmatized issues. In a column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Pulitzer Prize and Peabody Award-winning journalist Hank Kibanoff also reflected on the time Rosalynn Carter introduced Ford Bales as the newest member of the Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Advisory Board. “Putting her on the board means I can see and be with Susan, and the memory of Betty, at least twice a year,” Kibanoff recalled Mrs. Carter saying.

For Susan Ford Bales, it’s been a whirlwind of activity and sweet memories.

“When you’re busy being grateful, it’s so much easier,” she said. “And I am truly grateful for my parents, for dear friends and inspirations like Rosalynn Carter, and for the opportunity to lift up and be part of the important work they started, which will continue to grow more impactful with every passing season and generation.”

First Lady Betty Ford and First Daughter Susan Ford creating handmade Christmas ornaments in the White House Solarium on Nov. 10, 1975.



Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

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