Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, October 12, 2012

U-M pays tribute to the life and legacy of Betty Ford

Betty Ford was remembered Thursday as a feminist, a pioneer in breast cancer awareness and an advocate for addiction treatment.

From left, Michael Ford, Gayle Ford, President Mary Sue Coleman, Ford School Dean Susan Collins, Steven Ford and Susan Ford Bales. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)  

But the late first lady, who died July 8, 2011, at age 93, also was a huge Michigan football fan. As her son Mike Ford told it at a tribute to her life and legacy, Mrs. Ford spent part of her honeymoon with the late President Gerald Ford at a Wolverine football game in 1948.

"Throughout their 58 years of marriage and public service, they traveled to Ann Arbor many times," he said. "Mom came to love the University of Michigan because she loved Jerry Ford, the son of the maize and blue."

The 90-minute tribute was sponsored by the Gerald R. Ford School for Public Policy. It included speeches from Nancy Brinker, a former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary and founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure; Sanford Weill, former CEO and chairman of Citigroup; U-M President Mary Sue Coleman, and Ford School Dean Susan M. Collins.

    Above: Miki Orihara of the Martha Graham Dance Company performs at the tribute. At left: Nancy Brinker delivers the keynote speech. (Photos by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

Brinker, who called Mrs. Ford a friend and mentor, said she attended the first fundraising event Brinker put together to find a cure for breast cancer in 1982 — a polo match in Dallas.

Her only question was: Would she have to ride a horse?

"Mrs. Ford didn't just lend her name, she lent her leadership, and one of my favorite quotes that guides me even to this day is fairly simple, which is that 'you never know what you can do until you have to do it,'" Brinker said.

Mrs. Ford, she said: "was an extraordinary leader for all women and for our country's culture, because she had the courage to stand up and challenge our society to think about important issues … to change things that were wrong."

Coleman, who considered Gerald and Betty Ford personal friends, said Mrs. Ford's frankness about breast cancer encouraged millions of women to see their doctors, perform monthly exams and get mammograms.

"Mrs. Ford elevated the visibility and awareness of women's roles in the world and their right to be treated as equals," she said.

Miki Orihara, a principal dancer at the Martha Graham Dance Company in New York, performed at the tribute a dance choreographed by Graham in the 1940s around the time that Mrs. Ford danced in her group.

The dance, called "Letter to the World," was based on a poem by Emily Dickinson.

"Even though this is an old piece and the style might be old with its politeness of movement, it is still relevant," Orihara said in an interview prior to her performance.

Orihara, who met the Fords in the late 1980s at a reception after a performance in California, said of the tribute: "I am just honored to be here and dancing."