Three former US first ladies, including US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, joined mourners on Tuesday at a funeral service for Betty Ford, the widow of former US president Gerald Ford, who died last week.
Former US president George W. Bush also attended the service in Palm Desert, California, along with Nancy Reagan and former US president Jimmy Carter’s wife, Rosalynn, to remember the co-founder of the Betty Ford drug and alcohol addiction center.
Former US president Bill Clinton was to have flown in, but was prevented by a mechanical problem with his plane in New York and will travel to another service in Michigan where Ford’s body was to be taken yesterday, reports said.
“Millions of women are in her debt today” because of leadership on early detection of breast cancer,” said Rosalynn Carter, who gave the first eulogy with Bush, Hillary Clinton and Reagan sitting in the front row.
Recalling how her relationship with Ford could have been awkward after her husband succeeded former US president Gerald Ford in the White House in January, 1977, Rosalynn Carter said: “She was just Betty, as gracious as always.”
“Her example also helped me recover from Jimmy’s loss in 1980,” when Carter was beaten by former US president Ronald Reagan, and “showed me that there is life after the White House,” she added, paying tribute to “this truly remarkable woman.”
Betty Ford, who co-founded the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California, in 1982 after suffering from cancer and addiction problems herself, died on Friday aged 93 at the nearby Eisenhower Medical Center.
Her body was due to lie in repose later on Tuesday at St Margaret’s Church in Palm Desert, near Palm Springs and southeast of Los Angeles, before being transferred yesterday to Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In Grand Rapids, her body will also lie in repose before being interred today next to that of her husband, who died in 2006.
US President Barack Obama led tributes to her last week, praising her “courage and compassion” for speaking openly about her fight with breast cancer and drug and alcohol addiction, and then working to help others battle their demons.
His wife, Michelle, who traveled to California, made no public remarks at the public service on Tuesday, which followed a private memorial for her family. Neither did Reagan or Bush.
The director of the Betty Ford Center paid tribute to her on Monday, underlining her dedication to treatment which changed the lives of countless people.
“An 11-year-old girl from Los Angeles wrote Mrs Ford and said, ‘My tummy hurts really bad whenever my mom is drinking,’” John Schwarzlose wrote on the center’s Web site.
Recalling how former patients would come to thank Ford, he added: “She would smile, look into their eyes and say, ‘You did this. You decided you didn’t have to continue living that old life. You deserve everything you have today.’”
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