Yesterday’s news of the death of Elizabeth Ann Bloomer Warren Ford (aka Betty Ford) at age 93 was sad for millions of American women and men for a myriad of reasons. Her plain speaking, her commitment to women’s rights and her uncanny ability to answer the question “what is wealth” in simple, everyday terms are part of the great legacy she leaves behind. I am a huge proponent of defining wealth differently than most financial advisers in that wealth to me expands beyond the greenbacks in our purses and the investments in our portfolio.
What Is Wealth?
The Free Dictionary defines wealth as “a profusion, a great amount, all goods and resources having value in terms of exchange or use…fullness, cornucopia.” Similarly Merriam-Webster’s defines wealth as “abundant supply,” listing the synonyms “substance, wherewithal, and worth.”
I know of few American women who have shared their wealth of experience, bravery and gutsiness, more vividly and powerfully than former First Lady, Betty Ford. Her 1942 first marriage to William Warren finally ended in a divorce in 1947, due to “excessive, repeated cruelty”. What most people may not know is that Mr. Warren was an alcoholic and slipped into a coma just after Betty had filed for divorce, yet she unswervingly cared for him another 2 whole years!
I especially honor Betty Ford for thinking independently from her husband, Gerald Ford, taking opposite stands on matters that pertained particularly to women, most notably, her support of reproductive choice, stating, “having babies is a blessing, not a duty.”
While she angered some conservatives who labeled her “No Lady”, Betty nonetheless commanded a 75% approval rating, and said, “I would give my life to have Jerry have my poll numbers” in his unsuccessful 1976 Presidential election. Since he had lost his voice campaigning, Betty gave his concession speech! (We would later marvel at her strength and dignity she showed the world by traveling across the United States in the week-long funeral proceedings for President Ford, as a frail and aged woman.)
The image of her marching aside Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem for Equal Rights in 1978 is ensconced in most of our minds. She joked with her Secret Service Agents that her car should also bear a flag, just like the President’s so they gave her a flag imprinted with “Don’t Tread on Me” with the letters ERA.
In 1974 she also allowed photographers into the hospital where she was recovering from a radical mastectomy, to educate women worldwide that it was not only ok to speak openly about having breast cancer in that day, but imperative to get regular breast exams/mammography for early detection. She spoke openly about her own mastectomy which gave countless women hope that they, too, could survive cancer.
Her candor about her children while living in the White House as First Lady was refreshing, insomuch as she spoke about real life challenges that “the rest of us” were struggling with. Her CB radio handle fittingly was First Mama.
She aligned herself with the common folk, not because she had to, yet because she wanted to; she truly cared. She understood the accompanying power of situations in which powerful and famous and respected people can empower and positively influence those with less power. She was all about lending a hand up.
Never dreaming that her newly wed husband–who arrived late to their wedding with muddy shoes from having been out campaigning–would win his seat in Congress, she also declared that the day he was sworn in as President of the United States of America was the saddest day of her life. She handled all the pressures of the media and the office with public aplomb, speaking out for women’s rights especially. Yet she paid her own price for that oft-lonely season by becoming addicted to alcohol and pain-killers. And when she underwent addiction treatment, she got her life back, and was determined to provide a facility where others could do the same. Her Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, CA does just that; it gives people their lives back, and does so at a modest cost, so that the “average” person (not just the plethora of movie stars and wealth) can afford the experience.
An exquisite dancer who did the Bump along the White House halls, I trust Betty is Dancing With The Stars tonight, and reunited with her beloved husband of 58 years, former President Gerald Ford, who also died at age 93.
To his credit, Gerry Ford never again took Betty for granted after her nervous breakdown in 1965. She described it as “I was giving too much of myself and not taking any time out for Betty…” Let that be a lesson for all of us, as Betty’s originality and open and honest sharing of her life has been.
Charity begins at home, and I urge each of us to take time for ourselves because ultimately that is our wealth. We then can choose to share our wealth with others, yet only if we have an abundance of it for ourselves to start with.
If anything, let Mrs. Ford’s passing call us all into realizing and actualizing the full women that we are, and are meant to be! Honor her today by asking “What Is Wealth” for you, and know that you have a right to however you define that answer. We Can Do It Women!
Rest in Peace our wealthy, good and faithful ‘servant’ Betty.
I heard that as a tax payer you could get some money from Betty Ford to help you if you have children. Is this a true statement?
I haven’t heard about any such funds, unfortunately. Good luck!