Betty Ford funerals to be in California, Michigan
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif (AP) – Rancho Mirage was a billionaire’s playground dotted by gated golf resorts, estates and spas before Betty Ford made it famous to the rest of the world with a rehab center that treated a stream of spiraling Hollywood stars that spanned generations, from Elizabeth Taylor to Lindsay Lohan.
When Ford died Friday afternoon, she had outlived some of her most famous celebrity successes and saved the lives of many more, a legacy that inspired A-listers and average residents alike to pay tribute to a former first lady who left her mark – and her name – all over the city she made famous.
Ford died of natural causes at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, the desert golf community where she settled with former President Gerald Ford after he left office more than three decades ago, according to family attorney and spokesman Greg Willard. She was 93.
She will be memorialized in both California’s Coachella Valley, which includes Rancho Mirage, and Michigan this week as her casket travels by motorcade and military transport to be laid to rest alongside her husband in Grand Rapids.
In Rancho Mirage, residents were saddened by her death even as they praised her devotion to removing the stigma from addiction. The Betty Ford Center treated more than 90,000 people since its beginnings in 1982 and although it was most famous for a string of celebrity patients, it kept its rates relatively affordable and provided a model for effective addiction treatment.
One of Ford’s defining characteristics was her candor, and that included confronting her own addiction head-on. She revealed a longtime addiction to painkillers and alcohol 15 months after leaving the White House, and regularly welcomed new groups of patients to rehab with a speech that started, “Hello, my name’s Betty Ford, and I’m an alcoholic and drug addict.”
Carol Pruter, 67, said she was proud that Betty Ford chose to set up her rehab center in Rancho Mirage and admired the former First Lady’s approach to life – and to addiction. Much of the world was focused on the celebrities who came to the center, but Ford made a point of reaching out to average people too, Pruter said.
During treatment, patients live in seclusion at the center, which is surrounded by tall, lush hedges and accessed by a private lane guarded by a security checkpoint. The center distinguished itself from later iterations of rehabs that catered to the wealthy, ones that resembled spas more than an environment to honestly confront one’s demons.
“She let people know that people who aren’t well-known can get addictions too. It’s not something for a certain part of society, it’s not something to hide,” Pruter said as she stopped by a local coffee shop in Saturday’s 104-degree desert heat. “It’s an illness that needs treatment.”
Wednesday morning, Ford’s casket will travel to Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she grew up, and where she met her husband of 58 year.
As in California, there will be another tribute service for family and friends at Grace Episcopal Church before a public visitation is held. Lynne Cheney, the wife of former vice president Dick Cheney, and history scholar Richard Norton Smith will give eulogies at the Michigan service.
Thursday morning, her casket will travel by motorcade to the Gerald R. Ford Museum, for a private burial alongside her husband.
“There will be a significant participation by the family in both services,” family spokesman Greg Willard said. “That’s the way Mrs. Ford wanted it, and we will certainly carry out her wishes.”