I must have been around 13 or 14 years old when it was announced that Betty Ford was a drunk and a drug addict. Shame on her! Imagine being the First Lady and feeling the need to get stoned 24/7. What kind of role model is that?

Well, Betty Ford is perhaps one of the best role models for all of us. From the time she was in the White House, she was upfront and open about women’s rights, psychiatric treatment, drugs, alcohol, and sex. She was a political activist and remarkably enough, as the wife of a Republican, she promoted legalizing abortion and the failed Equal Rights Amendment. As a result of her mastectomy for breast cancer, she made the subject of breast cancer acceptable to discuss and in turn, saved many lives.

Her biggest contribution was the Betty Ford Center, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Rancho Mirage, California. By admitting her alcoholism and drug addiction, she opened up discussion of the problem throughout the country and the Betty Ford Center became a model of many other rehab centers.

A good friend of mine is a “graduate” of the Betty Ford Center. His 20 years of sobriety is a testament to the work that Betty Ford did and her legacy. Her openness and activism on behalf of alcohol and drug treatment gave him a chance to turn his life around. And, surely there are thousands of people whose lives have been saved by Betty Ford.