Tipping my hat – that’s right, not a drink – to Mrs. Betty Ford

I wanted to take just a moment to tip my hat to Betty Ford. A small lady in stature and a huge lady in lasting impact. Actually, some bad along with the good, but certainly more good than anything construed as bad.

But before I get to that, I want to extend my most humblest thoughts and payers to the Ford family. Losing a parent is a tough one. May the good lord take a liking to all and bless the ground you continue to traverse.

Now to my thoughts on such a great lady. First off the not-so-good stuff, minor but I believe it’s worth mentioning. Mrs. Ford generally made alcoholism a treatable disease and not a weakness. And by doing so, created a cottage industry of treatment centers fueled by insurance companies that we have still not recovered from. Yes, the insurance companies are catching up and realize that alcoholism is not treated as other diseases with medications and a few follow-ups. That certainly can be part of it, I suppose, but the real issue here that alcoholism is not just a physical malady. It is a malady of combined components; including, but not to the exclusion of other things, but mostly physical, mental, spiritual and most certainly emotional. Mrs. Ford understood that.

Let me say right now that I am most assuredly not an expert on alcoholism, drug addiction or even the right color underwear to don when I am hoping to get lucky. Actually, being married for the past quarter-century has put a damper in my dating calendar.

But it is true that I am an alcoholic. I have not had a drink of alcohol since Oct, 16, 1977. I will not divulge how that occurred, ascribing to the traditions of the group of men and women who have put this Humpty Dumpty back together again. Not completely back together, not by any stretch, but certainly on the right road.

In my job I am asked by news reporters to comment on certain  issues germane to whatever is prevalent to that day’s affairs. During this one interview last Friday evening on an unrelated matter to Mrs. Ford’s passing, the reporter got the news via cellphone.  He asked me about it and I gave him my thoughts; that she would ed for taking alcoholism out of the gutter of hopeless madness and into the rooms of possible gladness.

Yes, I believe Mrs. Ford turned our society away from John Wayne’s drunken divinity as something to aspire and put in its place Tom Hank’s Forest Gump’s nativity. We left Jack Kerouac’s destructive lifestyle of literary ramblings – good ramblings, I am the first to admit. I was a fan – with Tom Wolfe’s courageous encouragement in the “The Right Stuff.”

Please understand, I am not saying that Mrs. Ford influenced the writing or writings of these stories. I am saying she made it OK to be a drunk who didn’t want to be a drunk anymore. It was OK to be a smoker and not want to be a smoker anymore. It was OK to be hooked prescription medication and not want to be hooked on prescription drugs, which, by the way, have a whole other connotation connected to them because they are prescribed by doctors. In a very peculiar way, Mrs. Ford became one of the last remaining hippies. It’s OK to be who you are, just as long as you don’t infringe on another person’s right to be the way they are. Very hippyish. And this was coming from the First Lady of the United States of America. Not of California, Minnesota or Kansas. This was the first last of this great nation.

And she wasn’t doing this because of campaign concocted to help her husband retain his presidency. She did it because these were her challenges, demons, obstacles that were bringing her to her knees where she, perhaps, desperately yelled out the alcoholic prayer: “Please God, help me.” And help came and sobriety was soon to follow.

So, Mrs. Betty Ford, I tip my hat to you and thank you from the bottom of my heart for being who you were. In fact, I thank God for the Betty Ford’s of this world. They’re not too many of you around.

That whooshing sound you hear is not a door opening, but a door closing.  I pray there is another Mrs. Betty Ford right on your departing heels, but passing you by. As you leave, she or he is joining us. To be with us. Like you, a person who is one of us, but can show us the way.

Thank you for your years of service, Mrs. Betty Ford.  Thank you for your years of service.

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About stevewhitmore

Former award-winning newspaperman and broadcast journalist, both radio and TV, spanning three decades. Army-trained paralegal, court bailiff and prosecutor's lead investigator for the 8th Infantry Division's Judge Advocate General's Corp., Mainz, Germany. 1973-1975.
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