News / USA

George W. Bush, Michelle Obama Gather for Betty Ford Funeral

Former U.S. President Gerald Ford and his wife Betty talk to reporters outside the White House in this August 11, 1999 file photo.
Former U.S. President Gerald Ford and his wife Betty talk to reporters outside the White House in this August 11, 1999 file photo.

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and former president George W. Bush were among those at a funeral for former first lady Betty Ford, who died Friday in California at the age of 93.

Rosalynn Carter, another former first lady and close friend of Mrs. Ford, gave the first of three eulogies Tuesday.  

Mrs. Carter praised Mrs. Ford for her courage and grace in fighting against stigma and prejudices.  She said Mrs. Ford was "never afraid to speak the truth even about the most sensitive subjects," including her own struggles with addiction and cancer.

Another speaker, journalist Cokie Roberts, said Mrs. Ford had asked her in advance to speak at her funeral to remind people how Washington, DC, "used to be."

Roberts' mother was a close friend of Mrs. Ford's, and her father worked with Mrs. Ford's husband, former president Gerald Ford, then a congressman in the 1950s.  Roberts says her father and Mr. Ford would argue passionately about issues but still maintained a friendship that "made governing possible."  And she said her mother, Mrs. Ford and other political wives also forged strong connections and made "the men behave."  Roberts said she wished current congressmen would try to get together as nicely.

Roberts joked Mrs. Ford may have timed her death to ensure this message would come this week, as lawmakers and President Barack Obama engage in a contentious debate over the budget and the national debt.

The service for Mrs. Ford was held at a church in Palm Desert, California.  Her remains will be flown to Michigan for a public viewing and burial alongside her husband, who died in 2006.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan, both former first ladies, also attended the funeral.

Mrs. Ford was an outspoken advocate for women's rights and women's health.

As first lady from 1974 to 1977, she became known for her candor, famously discussing women's rights, premarital sex and abortion in a television interview.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer while at the White House, and became a champion for breast cancer research and awareness.

After leaving the White House, Mrs. Ford acknowledged and sought treatment for an addiction to alcohol and painkillers.  In 1982, she co-founded the Betty Ford Center in California, still one of the most well-known and well-regarded treatment centers for substance abuse.

Mrs. Ford was born in Chicago in 1918.  She moved to New York in her twenties and worked as a dancer and model.

The late president Ford was her second husband.  The two wed shortly before he was elected to serve in Congress in 1948.  He became vice president in 1973 after the resignation of Spiro Agnew - and became president in 1974 after the Watergate scandal led president Richard Nixon to resign.

President Obama said Mrs. Ford distinguished herself through her courage and compassion.  He said that as the nation's first lady, she was a powerful advocate for women's health and women's rights.



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