Americans could relate to Betty Ford.
She was blunt, a bit mischievous, and—most of all—a survivor.
She survived divorce. Except that she went on to marry a future president.
She survived breast cancer. Except that she was first lady at the time and talked openly about the disease—something not common then.
(PICTURES: Notable deaths of 2011)
And she survived addiction to alcohol and prescription medication. Except that she went on to form her own medical facility, the Betty Ford Center, a pioneer for the past three decades in the field of treating addiction.
"An inspiration to countless others, Betty Ford's name is synonymous with perseverance and personal triumph," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.
When word of her death spread Friday evening, the tributes began pouring in.
“Throughout her long and active life, Elizabeth Anne Ford distinguished herself through her courage and compassion,” said President Obama. “As our nation’s First Lady, she was a powerful advocate for women’s health and women’s rights. After leaving the White House, Mrs. Ford helped reduce the social stigma surrounding addiction and inspired thousands to seek much-needed treatment. While her death is a cause for sadness, we know that organizations such as the Betty Ford Center will honor her legacy by giving countless Americans a new lease on life.”
(PICTURES: Betty Ford Through the Years)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., expressed similar sentiments. "As first lady, Betty Ford was a political force and an advocate for the causes in which she believed,” Pelosi said. “As a breast cancer survivor, she offered hope to other women to overcome the disease. Her advocacy on behalf of women helped break down discrimination. Her powerful story and support for those struggling with addiction saved lives and helped bring the issue out of the shadows.”
(VIDEO: CBS News Feature on Ford)
Ford was first lady for less than three years after her husband, Gerald R. Ford, assumed the presidency in 1974 upon Richard Nixon’s resignation. “I am indebted to no man, and only to one woman--my dear wife--as I begin this very difficult job,” Gerald Ford said upon assuming office. They were married for 58 years, until his death in 2006.
But her impact on the nation and on the role of first ladies in American life belied her brief tenure in the White House. She was a bridge between First Ladies who played little public role beyond that of supporting their husbands and those who carved out sharp identities of their own.
As first lady, Ford pushed for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and supported abortion rights. She was widely admired, enjoying approval ratings that topped her husband’s. She caused a stir while in the White House when she told 60 Minutes that she wouldn’t be surprised to learn that her children had experimented with marijuana and that her 18-year-old daughter had engaged in premarital sex.
“Her honesty has always been one of the qualities about her that I love,” her husband once remarked.
Betty Ford was 93.
A survivor, to the end.