The reluctant lady

Review Case 9.3 in Ch. 9 of Leadership: Theory and Practice below.

Write a 250 word response to the following question:

How would you describe Betty Ford’s leadership? In what ways could her leadership be described as authentic
Format your paper consistent with APA guidelines.

Betty Ford admits that August 9, 1974, the day her husband was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States, was “the saddest day of my life” (Ford, 1978, p. 1).

Elizabeth Bloomer Ford was many things—a former professional dancer and dance teacher, the mother of four nearly grown children, the wife of 13-term U.S. Congressman Gerald “Jerry” R. Ford who was looking forward to their retirement—but she never saw being the country’s First Lady as her destiny.

As she held the Bible her husband’s hand rested on while he took the oath of office, Betty began a journey in which she would become many more things: a breast cancer survivor, an outspoken advocate of women’s rights, a recovering alcoholic and addict, and cofounder and president of the Betty Ford Center, a nonprofit treatment center for substance abuse.

The Fords’ path to the White House began in October 1973, when Jerry was tapped to replace then-U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew who had resigned. After only 9 months in that role, Jerry became the U.S. President after Richard M. Nixon left office amidst the Watergate scandal.

In her first days as the First Lady, Betty became known for her openness and candor. At the time, women were actively fighting for equal rights in the workplace and in society. Less than half of American women were employed outside the home, and women’s earnings were only 38% of their male counterparts’ (Spraggins, 2005). Betty raised a number of eyebrows in her first press conference, when she spoke out in support of abortion rights, women in politics, and the Equal Rights Amendment.

Betty hadn’t even been in the White House a month when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She again broke with social conventions and spoke openly about the diagnosis and treatment for a disease that was not widely discussed in public. With her cooperation, Newsweek magazine printed a complete account of her surgery and treatment, which included a radical mastectomy. This openness helped raise awareness of breast cancer screening and treatment options and created an atmosphere of support and comfort for other women fighting the disease.

“Lying in the hospital, thinking of all those women going for cancer checkups because of me, I’d come to recognize more clearly the power of the woman in the White House,” she said in her first autobiography, The Times of My Life. “Not my power, but the power of the position, a power which could be used to help” (Ford, 1978, p. 194).

After her recuperation, Betty made good use of that newfound power. She openly supported and lobbied for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, a bill that would ensure that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” (Francis, 2009).

In an interview with 60 Minutes, Betty drew the ire of many conservatives when she candidly shared her views on the provocative issues of abortion rights, premarital sex, and marijuana use. After the interview aired, public opinion of Betty plummeted, but her popularity quickly rebounded, and within months her approval rating had climbed to 75%.

At the same time, Betty was busy with the duties of First Lady, entertaining dignitaries and heads of state from countries across the globe. In 1975 she began actively campaigning for her husband for the 1976 presidential election, inspiring buttons that read “Vote for Betty’s Husband.” Ford lost the election to Jimmy Carter and, because he was suffering from laryngitis, Betty stepped into the spotlight to read Jerry’s concession speech to the country, congratulating Carter on his victory. Betty’s time as First Lady ended in January 1977, and the Fords retired to Rancho Mirage, California, and Vail, Colorado.

A little more than a year later, at the age of 60, Betty began another personal battle: overcoming alcoholism and an addiction to prescription medicine. Betty had a 14-year dependence on painkillers for chronic neck spasms, arthritis, and a pinched nerve, but refused to admit she was addicted to alcohol. After checking into the Long Beach Naval Hospital’s Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Service, she found the strength to face her demons and, again, went public with her struggles.

“I have found that I am not only addicted to the medications I’ve been taking for my arthritis, but also to alcohol,” she wrote in a statement released to the public. “I expect this treatment and fellowship to be a solution for my problems and I embrace it not only for me but for all the others who are here to participate” (Ford, 1978, p. 285).

Betty Ford found recovering from addiction was particularly daunting at a time when most treatment centers were geared toward treating men. “The female alcoholic has more emotional problems, more health problems, more parenting problems, makes more suicide attempts, than the alcoholic man,” Betty explained in her second autobiography, Betty, a Glad Awakening (Ford, 1987, p. 129).

For this reason, Betty helped to establish the nonprofit Betty Ford Center in 1982 in Rancho Mirage. The center splits its space equally between male and female patients, but the treatment is gender specific with programs for the entire family system affected by addiction. The center’s success has attracted celebrities as well as everyday people including middle-class moms, executives, college students, and laborers. Betty’s activism in the field of recovery earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 and the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1999.

Speaking at an alumni reunion of Betty Ford Center patients, Betty said, “I’m really proud of this center. And I’m really grateful for my own recovery, because with my recovery, I was able to help some other people come forward and address their own addictions. And I don’t think there’s anything as wonderful in life as being able to help someone else” (Ford, 1987, p. 217).

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