Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Betty Ford

I first met Betty when she was the wife of the Vice President and my husband was governor of Georgia. She spent the night with us in the governor's mansion. She was warm and friendly, and we were immediately at ease with each other. She was a wonderful First Lady — a champion for women's rights at the same time that I was working very hard to get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified in my state. And her openness and candor about her struggles with substance abuse and cancer made her human. Everybody loved her.

I was with Betty the first time she spoke out about her addiction. It was at a press conference on that visit with us in Georgia. Someone asked if she was on something, and she said, "Yes, I take Valium every day." You could see the pencils come out of the reporters' pockets. I thought it was interesting that she would say this, but I don't think either one of us realized what a stir she had created.

After both of us had left the White House, it was our causes that drew us together. She continued her work on substance abuse, and I worked on mental health. We traveled many times to Washington together to speak to lawmakers; she would gather the Republicans to meet with us, and I would get the Democrats. Over time, we developed a close friendship that extended to our families.

Betty Ford was a role model to me, and one of America's great First Ladies. There is no way to know how many lives she touched and made better because of her willingness to speak out and because of the work she continued after she left the White House.

Carter was First Lady from 1977 to 1981