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Former first lady Betty Ford memorial service preparations under way

July 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
People in Southern California and throughout the country were remembering former first lady Betty Ford on Saturday.

The outspoken and much admired wife of President Gerald Ford died Friday at Eisenhower Medical Center surrounded by her family. She was 93 years old.

The family has been in Rancho Mirage making funeral arrangements. It is likely that Betty Ford will have two services- one that will take place locally at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church where her husband was also memorialized, followed by a burial in Grand Rapids at the Presidential Museum.

It was her candor, compassion and courage that the nation may best remember about the former first lady.

"Everybody who hears Betty Ford's name just can say they have a big smile on their face," said John Piotto from Canada. "They say she was just a tremendous human being and a wonderful person. We need more people like her in the world, and she was a great role model."

Born Elizabeth Ann Bloomer in 1918, Betty Ford grew up in a middle class home with strong mid-western roots. Shortly after graduating high school, she packed her bags and headed to New York City to train as a dancer.

Betty Ford eventually returned to Grand Rapids, Michigan where she met and married up-and-coming Congressman Gerald Ford.

In 1973 she was thrust in to the national spotlight after he husband was nominated to replace Vice President Spiro Agnew. Eight months later Gerald Ford would become the nation's 38th president following President Richard Nixon's resignation.

Betty Ford would not be a traditional first lady, speaking out about the controversial equal rights amendment. She made her own political waves and blazed a trail for women. She was outspoken about abortion, women's rights and her own health issues after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

"Women are no longer ashamed of having mastectomies, they talk about it," said the former first lady." I think we have made progress and I feel that I have saved many lives."

Again she opened up about her addiction to alcohol and pain killers. That admission led her to establish the Betty Ford Center in 1982, perhaps saving countless lives- a lasting legacy for which she will perhaps be best remembered by.

"She's done so much for so many women and really so many human beings in terms of helping them fight addiction," said Dr. Barbara Kaufman from Rancho Mirage.

She had four children with former President Gerald Ford, who passed away in 2006. Betty Ford's children released a statement: "Mother's love, candor, devotion, and laughter enriched our lives and the lives of the millions she touched throughout this great nation."

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