Happy Birthday, Betty Ford
A remarkable woman by the name of Elizabeth Bloomer was born 100 years ago this week. Better known later as Mrs. Betty Ford, she left an indelible mark on American society and the world at large through her activism on many fronts: women’s rights, breast cancer awareness, and — a cause close to our hearts — addiction recovery.
Much has been written and said about this kind individual, whose grace and courage touched the lives of countless people. This year marks 36 years since the former First Lady of the United States co-founded the world-renowned Betty Ford Center where thousands of people have sought refuge and solutions to their challenges with alcohol and other drugs. And April 8 marks what would have been Mrs. Ford’s 100th birthday.
As one of the fortunate institutions to count ourselves among her legacy, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation would like to invite you to share your birthday wishes for Betty Ford’s centennial. Sharing your gratitude for her life — because you are a fellow breast cancer survivor, because her recovery inspired your own, because you respect her work for women’s equal rights, or maybe because you just really dig the gumption that powered the photo of her dancing on the Cabinet table in the White House — would be a moving tribute to one of our favorite women.
We’re using the internet as the inside pages of our birthday card. Through your favorite social media channels, we’d love if you joined in, using the hashtags #BettySavedMe, #HBDBetty and #BettyFord100.
Social media can seem like a wasteland of shamelessly unfiltered ids. A scan for Betty Ford’s name reveals that her overwhelmingly positive and hopeful legacy is often hijacked by online trolls whose “send him to the Betty Ford Clinic!” [sic] tweets reveal the lingering stigma and marginalization of addiction.
But — social media has another side — one that connects people who felt lost, overwhelmed, and alone. It amplifies voices that were once too quiet to hear, or voices that were silenced by stigma.
Share the impact of Mrs. Ford’s grace, tenacity and graciousness with the world. Share the meaning of her work. Let’s lift up the words “Betty Ford” on social media. She changed lives. She saved people. She was a powerful advocate for bettering lives and shattering stigma. “Betty Ford” stands for hope, healing and help.
Want more digital Betty?
Revisit some of these gems:
· Betty Ford’s inspirational talk at the Eisenhower Medical Center’s Awareness Hour in 1982 (recorded the week of her 64th birthday and her fourth sobriety anniversary).
· A student documentary that made it to the finals of the 2017 National History Day Contest called, “Betty Ford Candidly Standing Strong.”
· A blog post from the National Archives History Office called, “Betty Ford Danced to Her Own Beat.”
· The story of The First Family of the Betty Ford Center.
· A video from Many Faces 1 Voice called, “Betty Ford, First Lady of Recovery Advocacy.”
· An excellent presidential campaign historical podcast by John Dickerson (of Face the Nation), focused on “The Candor of Betty Ford,” from back in 2016.
The early days of the Betty Ford Center
Finally, we’d like to share some of the memories from the first days of the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. We spoke with one of the inaugural employees — still serving today, as the last original staffer — Carolyn Friend. Over the course of four decades, Carolyn started as a secretary, then worked as the supervisor of secretaries and chemical dependency technicians, then focused continuing care, and now is a continuing care coordinator. In a conversation with the Institute for Recovery Advocacy’s Jeremiah Gardner, Carolyn shared how Betty Ford’s thoughtfulness intersected at several key moments in her life.
[Interview edited for length and clarity.]
JG: Tell me about the first few days of the Betty Ford Center.
CF: We started preparing with what you might call a role-play on September 7th, 1982. We had a month of training before the Betty Ford Center opened in October. With 40 people, we had enough staff for two halls: half worked as staff and half “worked” as patients.
We each spent three days and three nights as patients so we were the first to sleep in the beds and find out what was missing. We complained that the beds were too short, the pillows were too hard. I think we had an ironing board with no iron. We were working the kinks out.
Mrs. Ford herself stayed the first night. Of course she had Secret Service there with her wherever she was. The first day we reported to work, we were greeted at the door with Secret Service. He asked me what county I was born in and I told him; he proceeded to tell me my name, where I was born, my social security number. We thought, “Uh-oh!”
Mrs. Ford discovered that we didn’t have soap dishes or matching cups for the bathroom. So she, Mrs. Firestone (Nicki, spouse of co-founder Leonard Firestone) and Betty’s Boys (as I always called the Secret Service) went to Kmart to get cups and matching soap dishes for the bathroom. And I guess Mrs. Firestone was down on her knees digging in the cupboards trying to find the matching set. Everybody pitched in and did what needed to be done.
JG: Was there an excitement in the air during that trial run? What did it feel like to be part of that?
CF: One of the good things about the trial run was having people come over from (neighboring) Eisenhower Medical Center to participate. We were also under their umbrella at the time — we were using their payroll department and pharmacist, for example.
We had heard a rumor that they were jealous of the Betty Ford Center because we had all new buildings and all new equipment. And then there was a little bit of a predicament with “all these drunks” that were going to be on the campus. So when the people from Eisenhower came for their three-day and three-night stay, and they were doing their closing out ceremony … the pharmacist said something about when coming over, he brought all these negative feelings but that heading back, he was taking less. So the trial run kind of changed the whole outlook, the relationship between the hospital and us.
On the first day we opened to the public (Oct. 4, 1982), there were four patients. With 40 employees, ready to pounce. It was like you had to hold everybody back. I couldn’t tell you how long it took to fill the hall, but I know we weren’t just four patients very long.
I’ve always been proud of where I worked. But I never advertised where I worked during my recovery because I was taught very early on that you wear two different hats. Your recovery program is one thing; your job is something else. But I’ve always been very proud.
JG: You have a sort of a serendipitous connection with Mrs. Ford.
CF: Yes. I was diagnosed with breast cancer — I don’t mind going into this — third stage. I had nine out of 19 lymph nodes. I’m a miracle to still be here. It’s been, what, 27 years, going on 28 years of being in remission. When I was first diagnosed, Mrs. Ford called me at home one night from New York. She said she heard about my diagnosis. I said, “All the way in New York?” She said yes, and that, “We’ll talk more about it when we get home,” because she herself was a cancer survivor.
When I was in the hospital for one of the surgeries, she sent flowers and came with Betty’s Boys to visit and give me a pep talk. She was just that type of person. She reached out.
I think we all end up where we were supposed to be, with people you were supposed to be with.
#BettySavedMe #HBDBetty #BettyFord100
Samantha Moy-Gottfried is the social media manager for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs.