Saturday, July 09, 2011

A Life Well Lived

The city was strangely quiet today. Not a lot of traffic, not a lot of people around. It was odd. Maybe they are still out of town, or maybe they are just in a bit of shock. Two major events in Grand Rapids' history took place in around 30 hours total, so perhaps it was time for a breather. No huge crowds down at the Ford, but there was a steady stream of folks going in and out of the museum to sign the books. If the shots above seem devoid of people it's because I didn't want to single anyone out, so I tended to wait until it was clear. (And one to note: the house towards the end is Betty's childhood home on Fountain Street, a few blocks from my house. Bet no one else has that.)

There have been many great articles written about Betty Ford. The AP bio sums it up nicely, but the GR Press has a complete overview and better details on her early life in Grand Rapids, her battles with addiction and breast cancer, and her relentless advocacy for women's rights. Good stories all.

Last year, I went down to the Ford for Betty's birthday in April. They have free admission and cake and I hadn't been there for a while, so I took some shots as I wandered the museum, smiling at what I remember from that time (I was all of nine when Jerry became president). Betty has a section of her own with photos and letters, and they play the 60 Minutes interview on a TV...

Her frank and outspoken nature earned her high approval ratings — and plenty of critics.

During the 1976 presidential election, supporters wore buttons that proclaimed “Betty’s Husband for President” and “Keep Betty in the White House.” Conversely, she pointed out more than once, “I’m the only First Lady to ever have a march organized against her.”

That protest occurred after a “60 Minutes” interview with Morley Safer in which she stated premarital sex might lower the divorce rate, she probably would have tried marijuana had she been growing up in the 1970s and “... the best thing in the world was when the Supreme Court voted to legalize abortion, and in my words, bring it out of the back woods and put it in the hospitals, where it belonged. I thought it was a great, great decision.”

... and as I watched that, mesmerized at the difference between then and now, I had to laugh. How incredibly liberal she was. No way the Republicans of today would accept her - or Jerry either, for that matter.

And how incredibly honest. That's the word I keep coming back to. It seems that sort of personal honesty and candor is completely absent from the political world today. Everything now seems so... calculated. Even the craziness. With the Fords, they were real. The museum features both the good stuff and the controversy, like the interview above. It's all there, triumph and defeat, all on display for the permanent record. Refreshing.

And Betty was great. Read some of those links, and see how she broke new ground on issues that were pretty much taboo in the public conversation. As a kid I took it for granted, but now I understand how remarkable and bold it all was for the time we lived in.

Thank you Betty. There is no doubt in my mind that you saved many lives by making it OK to talk about both addiction and breast cancer. And thank you for your fight on behalf of women's rights. It is a different world for women today because of the work you did.

The funeral in Grand Rapids will be this Thursday. It won't be the big event that Jerry's was, but I'll try to get down there if I can, and help welcome her home. My life is better because of her, and I want to pay my respects.