|Betty Ford at the center she founded.|
Betty Ford helped bring alcoholism out of the 19th Century and into the present by courageously going public with her disease and striding a long step further when she started the Betty Ford Center, where several of my friends and associates have cleaned up their lives.
When I entered AA the first time in the early 1970s, it was a different place than it is now--and it was not especially welcoming. I was sentenced to AA in about 1972 by Judge James Bryce for driving drunk (a second offense, the first being on a wedding night a couple of years earlier--I spent that night in jail. The story's another seminar and maybe we'll get to it some day). Judge Beverly Fitzpatrick, bless his heart, had begun the practice of giving drunk drivers the choice of jail or AA around that time and Bryce took up the call. Fitzpatrick established in Roanoke a Friday night "honor court" for drunks, a sort of AA meeting for them that dealt with life issues on all levels.
|Ad for the Betty Ford Center|
Betty Ford and a legion of strong and brave women like her turned recovery into something trendy. Women had a civilizing effect on AA (much as they did on newspaper newsrooms when they came into them in full force at about the same time). The smoking calmed down a bit and so did the language. People didn't yell at each other quite so much and the edgy, macho, testosterone-soaked stories became more human and vulnerable. Betty Ford told thousands of women--maybe millions--that it was OK to get well, that they had a disease, not a moral lapse.
Lady Bird Johnson literally cleaned up the country; Jackie Kennedy gave us grace; Eleanor Roosevelt infused us with compassion; Michelle Obama has presented self-confidence and style. Betty Ford gave lives back to some of our most vulnerable and sickest women. She should be remembered for that first.