Betty Ford Dead at 93

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Former first lady Betty Ford died Friday in Rancho Mirage, Calif., at age 93. (Published Friday, Jul 8, 2011)

    A celebration of life service for the late first lady Betty Ford has been scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at the family's church in Palm Desert, a family spokeswoman said Saturday.

    The ceremony for Ford's friends and family is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, 47-535 Highway 74 in Palm Desert, family media liaison Barbara Lewandrowski said.

    She is expected to be buried alongside her husband on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.

    Ford, remembered for her battle against breast cancer and support of abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment as first lady and co-founding one of the nation's most famous addiction-treatment centers after leaving the White House, “died peacefully” Friday at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage at age 93, her family announced.

    The cause of death was not revealed.

    “Mother's love, candor, devotion and laughter enriched our lives and the lives of millions she touched throughout this great nation,” said a statement from her children, Michael Gerald, 61; John Gardner, 59; Steven Meigs, 55; and Susan Ford Bales, 54.

    “To be in her presence was to know the warmth of a truly great lady. Mother's passing leaves a deep void, but it also fills us with immeasurable appreciation for the life we and Dad shared with her.”

    Ford, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, served as chair of the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage until she was 88.

    “As our nation's first lady, she was a powerful advocate for women's health and women's rights,” President Barack Obama said. “After leaving the White House, Mrs. Ford helped reduce the social stigma surrounding addiction and inspired thousands to seek much-needed treatment. While her death is a cause for sadness, we know that organizations such as the Betty Ford Center will honor her legacy by giving countless Americans a new lease on life.”

    Ford, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, served as chair of the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage until she was 88.

    "I was deeply saddened this afternoon when I heard of Betty Ford’s death," said Nancy Reagan in a statement released Friday.

    "She has been an inspiration to so many through her efforts to educate women about breast cancer and her wonderful work at the Betty Ford Center," Reagan said. "She was Jerry Ford's strength through some very difficult days in our country's history, and I admired her courage in facing and sharing her personal struggles with all of us. My love and deepest sympathy go out to the entire Ford family at this very sad time."

    "Barbara and I loved Betty Ford very much," said former President George H. W. Bush in a statement. "She was a wonderful wife and mother; a great friend; and a courageous First Lady. No one confronted life's struggles with more fortitude or honesty, and as a result, we all learned from the challenges she faced."

    "The Betty Ford Center, which already has helped change the lives of thousands of people, will be her lasting legacy of care and concern. We were proud to know her. We were proud to call her a friend. We will miss her very much," said Bush.

    Born in Chicago on April 8, 1918, Elizabeth Ann (Betty) Bloomer was raised in Grand Rapids, Mich.

    She attended the Bennington School of Dance in Vermont for two summers after graduating from high school in 1936, and she eventually became a member of choreographer Martha Graham's Auxiliary Performance Troupe, performing at Carnegie Hall.

    After moving back to Michigan, she formed her own dance group and worked with disabled children, helping them experience the rhythm of dance -- beginning a lifetime of philanthropic work.

    She married a salesman named William Warren in 1942, but they divorced a few years later.

    In 1947, she was introduced by a friend to Gerald R. Ford, and they were engaged by February of the next year. The couple married in October 1948, and Ford was elected to Congress two weeks later. He went on to serve in the House of Representatives for 25 years.

    The couple had four children -- Michael Gerald, now 61; John Gardner, 59; Steven Meigs, 55; and Susan Elizabeth, 54.

    In 1973, the Fords were planning to retire, but Gerald Ford was chosen by President Richard Nixon to replace the resigned Spiro Agnew as vice president. When Nixon resigned in 1974 in the midst of the Watergate scandal, Ford became the nation's 38th president

    Betty Ford has not granted interviews since the December 2006 death of her husband. Ford, who has had a home in Rancho Mirage for many years, devoted much of her life to humanitarian causes -- both in the United States and worldwide.

    In 2008, she received the "People's Princess" humanitarian award, authorized by the Princess Diana Foundation. She was the first person to receive the honor outside the United Kingdom.

    Vice President Joe Biden, a senator when Gerald Ford was president, said that “throughout her life, Betty displayed strength, courage and determination that provided hope for millions of Americans seeking a healthier, happier future.

    “Her legacy and work will live on through the millions of lives she has touched and the many more who will continue to look to her for inspiration.”

    In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that contributions be made to the Betty Ford First Ladies Tribute Fund, c/o the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, 303 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, Mich., 49504; Betty Ford Diagnostic Breast Center, Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, 145 Michigan St. NE, Suite 4200, Grand Rapids, Mich., 49503; Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, 183 Gore Creek Drive, Vail, Colo., 81657; The Betty Ford Legacy Scholarship Fund, c/o Betty Ford Center Foundation, 41990 Cook St., Suite C-101, Palm Desert, Calif., 92211.