In Step with Betty Ford in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids, Michigan is the home of Gerald Ford’s Presidential Library and Museum.

While attending a work function, I found time to peruse its offerings, some rather routine items, others so nostalgic it sent me careening through time.

But it was the exhibit focusing on his wife, Betty Ford–In Step with Betty Ford: In Celebration of Her Centennial–that riveted me. Beautiful, elegant, poised, yet flawed and spirited, she possessed an inner strength that became somewhat masked by her addiction.img_9025

“I have an independent streak. You know it’s kind of hard to tell an independent woman what to do.” –Betty Ford

I was absorbed by her story, told in vignettes that accompanied pictures of her as a child, a dancer, a department store model.

“Being a lady does not require silence.” –Betty Ford


“I had thought I would hate being First Lady. I loved it.” –Betty Ford

A failed first marriage before she met her match in Gerald Ford.

Breast cancer survivor.

Recovered alcoholic.

“Alcohol may pick you up a little bit, but it lets you down in a hurry.” –Betty Ford

Flowers winked in the gardens. A daylily named for her shone as the brightest in the display.


At the end, I suppose as is always fitting, her final resting place beside the man with whom she danced through most of her life. I was surprised by her, by the connections I felt with her as I gleaned even more respect for her than I’d previously possessed.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself. Most of it is all right. When I add up the pluses and subtract the minuses, I still come out pretty well.” –Betty Ford


“The search for human freedom can never be complete without freedom for women.” –Betty Ford

If you find yourself in Grand Rapids, take the tour of this museum.  Even if you’ve missed this temporary exhibit, you might find yourself as inspired by Elizabeth (Betty) Ford as I was.


Renee Johnson is the author of Behind The MaskHerald AngelsAcquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a romantic-comedy, and a historical novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and two very spoiled German shepherds named Hansel and Gretel.


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  1. Thanks for bringing this into my eye line. She was one of those people that was way above my station in life that I felt I had a connection with because of our breast cancer. It kind makes the point that it doesn’t matter who you are, or think you are, when it comes down to it we are all just human. What you have shown me with your brief tour here is that she was the real deal and very human.

    1. Thank you Michelle. There was so much there that did exactly as you say, humanized her. She was just an ordinary person tossed into the limelight. I was besotted with her courage.

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