In 1974, Betty Ford became First Lady when her husband Gerald was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States. During her years in the White House, Mrs. Ford used her prominence and enormous prestige to focus the country's awareness on health issues. Her personal experience with breast cancer in 1974 led to her advocacy for education about breast cancer and other women's health problems.
Mrs. Ford's years in the White House also were witness to a courageous struggle to recover from her dependence on drugs and alcohol. In 1978, with her recovery completed, Mrs. Ford actively campaigned and became a forceful spokesperson for improved awareness, education and treatment for alcohol and other drug dependencies. Recounting her journey toward personal health in her autobiography, Betty: A Glad Awakening, published in 1987, Mrs. Ford said, "I've had to educate myself in order to educate others. I've spoken to the insurance field, to doctors, to religious groups. I started a whole new career when I was 60 years old, a career of recovery."
Mrs. Ford's open, honest approach helped to raise the nation's conscience with regard to the kinds of terrible health problems that, in particular, can afflict women and children. Her poignant revelation about her own vulnerabilities in respect to substance dependency inspired millions of people to face and to battle their own health problems. She leveraged her powerful national position, and her important relationships with the country's leaders, to bring attention to the need for research and treatment for those diseases that devastate human life. By putting a human face on addiction, Mrs. Ford delivered the inspiring message that the ravages of disease and abuse spare none. By sharing her private demons with the American people, Mrs. Ford encouraged others to seek help and have hope in the face of health problems rather than feel defeated by them. For the American people as well as people around the world, Mrs. Ford has become a model of personal courage and integrity, and a living testament to the will to survive that can give life a new beginning. Her service to the nation for helping to mobilize resources, talent and political will to provide caring and effective treatment to the addicted stands among her greatest achievements.
Along with Leonard Firestone, Mrs. Ford co-founded and co-chaired the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California, which opened in October 1982. The Center's treatment program assists women, men, and their families in starting the process of recovery from alcoholism and other drug dependency. It is regarded as the outstanding treatment facility in the nation. Today Mrs. Ford serves as an involved, hands-on chairperson of the Betty Ford Center Board of Directors. She remains active in the fundraising and planning for the Center. She continues to be involved with women's health issues, including early detection of breast cancer, arthritis and AIDS.