We Need More Betty Fords

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  • Ford Museum
Former First Lady Betty Ford is being eulogized this week as a woman who was gracious, steadfast, open about her addiction and breast cancer, and tolerant. In a time of intolerance and unbending certainty, her tolerance is sorely missed.

Mrs. Ford's casket is in the rotunda of the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, my hometown. Her funeral service is Thursday in East Grand Rapids at an Episcopal church about a mile from where I grew up. My family went to a different church, Fountain Street, for the admittedly damned. Its members included President Ford's friend and legal counsel, Philip Buchen, who had some influence over the fateful decision to pardon Richard Nixon. That cost Ford the 1976 election.

The Fords were Michigan icons in the Fifties and Sixties, although that word had not come into wide usage then. Grand Rapids, which like Memphis has had its problems, was fat city back then when the Big Three were cranking out cars and college tuition was $400. My mother, who was a Democrat, used to say that "When it rains in Grand Rapids, every drop falls on a Republican." Despite that, my older sister somehow got a summer internship with then-congressman Ford. Betty Ford was known to my mother's generation as Betty Bloomer, fashion coordinator for a department store and dance teacher at different studios in Grand Rapids. Gerald Ford was an All-American football player at the University of Michigan. The Fords wrote about their Grand Rapids days in a fine book called "Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Grand Rapids."

"Dance was my happiness" she wrote.

Betty Ford went public about drug dependence, divorce and cancer; she supported women's rights, and once said she would not be surprised if her daughter had premarital sex. The daughter forced her to publicly recant, in what must have been an exquisite "Mother, please!" pre-Facebook moment. After that, Mrs. Ford probably kept her deepest thoughts to herself. Whatever, the whole Ford family seemed like real people you would like to have over for a non-alcoholic beer some time, with Gerald Ford, who toasted his own English muffins in the White House, flipping the burgers.

Betty Ford was one of those people you were proud to say was from your hometown. The cocksure certainty of the Tea Party mavens was not in her. I wonder what she thought of them.

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