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July 20, 2011

Aspiring to Be Betty

Aspiring to Be Betty

by Nancy Martin       Go to fullsize image

My mother invited Gerald Ford to dinner, and he came.

"He was a lovely man," my mother says.  "He talked so warmly about his wife and children."

Not long thereafter, Richard Nixon asked Mr. Ford to be the Vice President, and he accepted, and we all know what happened after that, and even though my mother wasn't happy about Nixon getting a pardon, she still says Gerald Ford was a lovely man.  There is no higher praise in the socio-economic group I grew up in.

At the time, my dad raised money for Republican causes, and Mr. Ford was an invited speaker for a group of local donors, so my dad flew down to DC to pick him up.  (My mother encouraged my dad to take along my little brother, who was in high school at the time, and who remains a Republican today, but that's another story perhaps best hushed up.) So it wasn't exactly a state dinner.  My mother grilled some steaks, no big deal. She reports that Mr. Ford talked about how he and Betty raised their kids, etc. etc.  And he told a joke that Betty liked, which my mother can't remember, but she says it was very funny and self-deprecating. 

Since then, my mother has thought the world of Betty Ford--a down-to-earth midwesterner, the plucky daughter of a widowed mother. She went to college for two years and studied dance before coming home to build a career in department store fashions before she married. When her husband became ill, she supported him---a time in her life when she learned women were paid a heck of a lot less than men for just the same work. She divorced her first husband (reports say she wanted a family, but he didn't) and was soon snatched up by young lawyer Gerald Ford--a nice guy who entered politics by running for Congress.  Many people say Betty was an ideal congressional wife--a role that has certainly disappeared, I suppose.  (I find myself thinking of Huma Abedin--herself not a bad role model for her time.) Betty networked, entertained, and charmed while raising her children and doing volunteer work. For my mother's generation, those were the highest callings. 

Last week, Betty Ford shared the headlines with the likes of Octomom (whose kids misbehaved on an airplane) and Casey Anthony, who, if you live under a rock, was recently found innocent of murdering her own daughter. 


I found myself reflecting on the kind of woman who gets headlines these days. Tabloid journalism seems to seek out women who aren't exactly in Betty's league.

Betty Ford had her problems, too, and she spoke about them in public.  As a result of breast cancer, she had one of her breasts removed--a topic people didn't bring up in public very often back then.  (She said she vividly recalled the first state dinner after her surgery. Ceremonially coming down the White House stairs, she figured the whole world was studying her figure and wondering,  "Which side was removed?" Must have taken a lot of composure to handle that moment, right?) We do talk openly about breast cancer now, and we have Betty Ford to thank for breaking the taboo.

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Betty also spoke matter-of-factly about the possibility her college-age daughter might have pre-marital sex, because she was "human." (The Pill was new around that time.  Talk about a revolution!) Believe me, that kinda talk was forbidden at the dinner table at my house!

Betty Ford is perhaps most enduringly famous for creating a center where people who suffer from substance abuse can go to get counseling, get clean, get a fresh start.  If there's a higher calling in life, it's hard to imagine, don't you think?

It's an amazing resume, isn't it?

What has happened to role models? My daughter thinks female role models are now incredibly polarizing.  Hillary Clinton?--You'll find as many people who despise her for having ambition as people who respect her accomplishments and what she's still trying to accomplish.  Female athletes don't get any press unless the fail their drug tests or lose to the Japanese. Sarah Palin? Michelle Bachman? People either scream or cheer. There's hardly any middle ground anymore. (Perhaps for this very reason, a lot of first ladies choose innocuous causes to support.  It's hard to get worked up about Michelle Obama's stand on childhool obesity.  Who could be in favor of that?  Same goes for Laura Bush on literacy.  I'm sorry neither one of them took up the cause of automatic handguns, but that's just me.) I respect Betty Ford for speaking up when what she said was unpopular or shocking.

Meanwhile, J-Lo broke up with her husband.  News reports say Jen was "sombre" as she went to a photo shoot. I find it amazing that any news agency felt this was new worthy of reporting.

Do you have a female role model?  A woman who inspired you or continues to do so? 


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Here's my take on having role models.
I fear that the wrong people might be crowding the field of adulation.
For instance the over the top hype of singers such as Lady Ga Ga even though I might admire her talent it blinds me as to wondering what is she really like. What true blue traits can we decipher from the huge stars. Maybe a little mystery could feed our imagination and convince us that they are worthy of emulation.
Movie stars are strong, independent but rarely sweet or vulnerable. Many do not come off as likable.
I do not feel jaded but I want to be in awe of people who give of their time and talent and help others to succeed at the same time succeeding themselves.
We have many examples right here on this blog..men and women who are likable and giving. So I live in hope that we be satisfied with the few gold nuggets that we can come by.

I've been inspired by a number of women (and men) for singular aspects of their lives, but very few of them for their entire lifetimes. We are all so fragile and full of flaws, to find one thing about anyone that is worth emulating is enough.

So I admire my grandmother for her sense of humor and storytelling skills - it was her coping mechanism for the hardships she endured.

I admire Erma Bombeck for telling the (funny) stories of being a wife and mother, yet striving for women's equality.

I admire my friend, Michele Scott, for doubting and questioning the publishing life, and then writing another book.

And I admire Zenyatta for giving her all in every race she ran. She never thinks twice about being big-boned.

Great remembrance, Nancy. Betty Ford was amazing!

I have no clue who my role model was, but I think one of the best role models for young girls today is author Meg Cabot. She writes YA books that speak to teenagers and preteens and have positive messages. Plus, on her blog, she promotes social consciousness, encourages her fans to vote, and pushes environmental protection. She's upbeat, well-spoken, intelligent and isn't afraid to be herself.

I recently re-watched the early Larry King interviews with JK Rowling. Then I re-watched her speech at my school's commencement activities. Superficially, I would not have recognised her as the same woman. It was clear how remarkable she is for her devotion to the cause of children. That she came from a difficult life situation. Grew. Developed. Accomplished. Remained devoted. Dignified. And yet herself. Giving to the cause of children in multiple ways.

The reason I read her first Harry Potter book was that a medical student came to me one day and asked me if I'd read the book. I hadn't, and he asked me if I would. Like Harry Potter he had a horrible family problem. But Harry, he told me, finds a way to live with it. He uses his mind to develop his ability.

So that is why I started reading Harry Potter. And that is how the student became a psychiatrist, a specialist in some of the most horrible things a child can face.

The good thing about your information is that it is explicit enough for students to grasp. Thanks for your efforts in spreading academic knowledge.

Being of the generation when Gerald Ford was President, I remember Betty quite well. She always a Class Act (with the capital letters), and came forward to talk about things that, as Nancy says, just were not discussed at the time.

After reading this, Nancy, I'd be willing to bet Mrs. Ford would call you "a lovely woman"....:)

I love you guys. We can always count on you for good stuff. (Except that Forex plug, which is so obviously a phishing scam that I'm not going to bother removing it because it just kinda proves one of my points, don't you think?)

Marie, if Lady Gaga is a role model . . . Oh, dear.

Becky, I have to start reading Meg Cabot. Thanks for the goose.

Reine, you always have the most poignant encounters with people. And you're so right about JK Rowling. Around here, we know we owe her a lot.

They just don't make 'em like they used to, that's for sure.

On the other hand, outside the political arena, there are plenty of people quietly leading exemplary lives of service, dedicated to helping others. They just don't make headlines that way.

And headlines (or page hits) is what it's all about. There is no "news" any more; it's all sensation, all the time, for the sake of readership and viewership share. Period. I mourn.

Zenyatta, oh, there was the female every male should aspire to be. I still miss her too, Gayle.

I'm not much for role models, (I usually think it's safer to follow principles, not people,) but I remember when I first read P.G. Wodehouse as a kid, I really admired Bobbie Wickham. Explains a lot about me.

Gaylin, I loved Erma Bombeck! What a role model! A sense of humor along with a pin to stick in the balloon of self-importance. She was a great lady.

William, you're just pandering, y'know.

Karen, have you read the Bill Moyers book THE CONVERSATION CONTINUES? It's just your kind of thing--full of insights on a variety of topics, but his view on current journalism is interesting. Reporters are now narrating the news, not reporting.....which is worth pondering. Nancy sez chek it out:

Now, hang on about Zenyatta. You all know I'm a racing fan and love riding and all. Are we supposed to respect her because she won a lot of races? Because.....those weren't exactly run by choice. Okay, she beat the boys, but....c'mon.

I love adore Bobbie Wickham, though. Thanks for making me smile, Undine.

Amelia Earhart. If I'd had a daughter, Amelia would be her name. Brave, smart, fearless, curious.

And I also always think of Christa McAuliffe. The same words, you know?

When I'm feeling cranky, or timid, or worried--I think--hey. You have no idea about fear or bravery. Wonderful and inspirational to think a person could have such a legacy.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who was out way ahead of her husband on social and racial issues. Hated and admired as much in her prime as Hillary Clinton is today.

A female role model. A woman who inspired me and continues to do so.
I'd say through the years it would have to be Dr. Nancy Smith the dean of the Dance Department at FSU. She was practically one of the pioneers of modern dance and it was her mentoring that helped me find my own style of dancing and teaching dance.
My friend to this day, Liz Hunter, gave me the freedom to express myself wearing bold colors and jewelry to make me happy and not follow the trends others so helplessly thought were fashionable. I design costumes to this day thinking of her.
My choir director, Betty Rice, who gave me solos and guided me through them when my knees were knocking so much my panty hose fell down.
And you Nancy. I want to be a writer like you. Actually all of you have inspired me and make me believe I can make a difference writing someday.
Thank you!

Xena, falling down panty hose only makes you stronger, right? In fact, those might be the words to inspire my day today.

A couple of my role models: My Aunt Mary, who never stopped smiling through many years of grave illness - her own and her husband's - while raising her family. My uncle was totally disabled the last few years of his life, and she continued to struggle with her own life-threatening heart problems. She had to sell their home and move into low-income housing because their money was depleted. She was one of the most congenial people I have ever known. When one of my friends was feeling blue, she'd ask if we could go visit my aunt, because she needed some cheering up, and my aunt always made her laugh.

My favorite teacher of all time, Mrs Thomas, who was my high school Latin and French teacher. She loved all of her students as if we were her own children. She was interested in us as PEOPLE, as well as students, and had great respect for all of us. We knew that everything about us really MATTERED to her.

My sister Pattie, who helped me learn that you get through the bad stuff by getting through it and moving on; a sense of humor is the best way to deal with your day; and being kind doesn't mean being a pushover.

Deb--your aunt Mary sounds like a woman to respect, all right. A lot like Laura's sister! Keeping your head up and smiling while making it through the hard stuff.

"Being kind doesn't mean being a pushover." Bumper sticker for us?

My roll model would have to be my mom. Not only dealing with my dad (and divorcing him), then working 2-3 jobs to help get my brother and me through college. But especially the way she directed her sadness and depression when my brother died...she became the roll model for many and inspird 'The SoapBox Award' at Gift of Life as she brought info to thousands regarding organ donation.

And my hero was/is my brother. His humor and determination while praying for that life saving miracle helped to keep us all going. Even when we knew he wouldn't get lungs, he still fought.

I think I tend to pick and choose traits to take as my role models, rather than the whole person. For instance, I once saw Gloria Steinham take hostile questions in a bookstore appearance and I was awed by her demeanor and responses. She didn't take the angry bait; she recognized, dived into, and answered the deeper questions underlying the hostility, she was courageous and calm and showed no sign of being intimidated or defensive. She simply answered the questions, with good nature, grace, and impressive depth. She made fun of no one, didn't snap back, didn't get flustered, looked her interrogators calmly in the eye, and she left me thinking, "I want to be like her."

I saw an interview between JK Rowling and Oprah that blew me away. Both of them came from humble beginnings. Both of them used their brains to get what they wanted, and there they were, two of the richest women in the world, having a conversation and at some point, Oprah asked something, Rowling responded, and you could see the light go on in both of their eyes--"oh, YOU get it!" It touched me.

I admire both of them. I also like Michelle Obama--she's graceful and strong and always so very well dressed (so I'm shallow! I love her clothes).

Speaking of traits I admire, I admire how Michele Obama transformed herself from a woman who appeared to be, at first, cynical and grudging about her husband's Presidential run into a woman who embraced the opportunity to be *more* herself, rather than less. She got bigger, bolder, more beautiful, more admirable, more everything, and she did that herself by taking herself in hand, I suspect. "Michele," she might have said, "it's going to happen, so don't just grudgingly, passive-aggressively drag along and make the best of it. DO make the very best of it for yourself, your family, and for all the people upon whom you may have some effect in their lives." At least, that's how I view her. I love her.

Oh, egad, I found part of the Oprah-Rowling interview, and I'm bawling!

I ran an errand, and on my drive I found myself thinking about Jackie Kennedy. In the end, she said her greatest success was raising children who turned out to be nice people. Mind you, she did a lot of things well, and I respect her for that.

Chiming in with the love and admiration for JK Rowling. Not only did she write a great series, she has not forgotten that she went through a period of hard times, and she has donated generously, both for women in need and for MS, in memory of her mother.

I think she remembers what it felt like to be afraid. That's reflected in her work, and in her humanity.

About the news, the news that affects you most personally will likely be reported in your hometown paper. Those stories will be written by real people--your neighbors--who want to do a good job, just as most people do, not some nefarious gang of evildoers. Subscribe to your local newspaper. Suggest stories. Respond to editorials. Be a part of your local news.

So, true, Ramona - I subscribe to the digital version of our local paper, plus a online local local newsletter (my immediate township) - it's much more interesting to me than the national news.

Nancy, I watched the Rowling/Oprah clip you posted, and I'm crying too. What accomplishments they've had. And what Rowling said about the young woman in the street really hit home with me, because my daughter is 22, and I said the same thing - she grew up on J.K. Rowling, and it's been a big part of her childhood and our family.

As much as I dislike her as a person for how she treated her oldest son, his wife & children, I have to say I admire my mother-in-law. After my FIL's major heart attack & stroke, he was confined to a wheelchair. She worked full time, was raising a 6 year old son, her mother lived with her and had to take care of her husband. She did it without complaint and with very little money. I respect her, but I don't like her.

And yes, my Dear Hubby is her eldest son.

My hat is also doffed to J.K.Rowling -- Harry Potter got my great-nephew to want to read -- now that's magic!

Pam---How true that we can admire somebody without liking her!

Okay, I have to go work for a couple of hours....

I forgot: Ophelia Dahl, daughter of Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl. She and Dr. Paul Farmer founded Partners in Health, an advocacy group for worldwide healthcare and social justice for the poor.

Lately, this blog's been eating my comments, but I hope this one sticks.

I admired Betty Ford as a role model and am grateful to her for very personal reasons. She helped to move alcoholism - particularly alcoholism and women - out of the dark closet of shame. My late mother, a lovely and loving woman, was an alcoholic. When Betty Ford came out and admitted her disease, she opened the door for other women with the same disease to do the same. When Mom sought in-patient treatment in the 70s and then followed up with program at home, she felt less embarassment, shame and fear about attending meetings she needed for recovery.

Several years later, sometime between 92 and 94, I went with my Mom to a dedication ceremony at a wonderful treatment place in Maryland. Betty Ford was the guest speaker. She shared her story with grace, dignity, humor, and courage. Whether someone in that audience was a recovering addict or had never suffered from the disease, you still listened and were inspired. I've rarely been so moved.

As far as national role models I would have to agree with Eleanor Roosevelt who certainly was way ahead of her time and Jackie Kennedy as well. Such a shame that the negative role models receive all the press today.

On a personal front my role model would be my young cousin Jessica who lives with ALS with dignity and courage. She lives her faith everyday. It's never about what she can't do but what she can do- still hug her kids, speak to them,share her faith, and inspire others.

We lost our 10th family member to ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) yesterday (Jessica's mom)but Jessica will focus on the joys they shared as a family and not the agony of this disease. Her young children have learned to be compassionate and caring through her example. What better legacy can Jessica or any of us have.

In addition to J.K. Rowling and Michele Obama (whose warmth in all circumstances warms the heart even when the sleaze and hatred slung at her husband and herself makes one despair), the person who leapt immediately to mind for me is Molly Ivins -- for her wit, her genial brashness, but most of all for wielding joy as a sword against the darkness.

I think Betty Ford set the bar for First Ladies. We take for granted today addiction and cancer treatment. How many thousands have decided to get help or get tested Because she stepped forward.

Alcoholism treatment is something very close to me. My father-in-law was a recovering alcoholic. When he got treatment, it was a "problem" that was handled quietly. After he recovered, he became the first director of the Hyland Center, one of St. Louis' first treatment centers that was public about what they did. When I was in college, Hyland Center needed to have some meetings of site. The doctors treating alcoholism would not attend meetings in a building that did not serve booze. Yes we have come a long way.

For role models, I have never been big on sports/movie starts. While you can admire their accomplishments, many of them are not exactly nice people. There are some who are both. I feel lucky to have met some of them. For several years a St. Louis Baseball star was the room parent at his children's elementary school.

I like my heroes closer to home. The Princesses have met some wonderful women.

Helen Weiss. Helen was vice president for marketing for the Famous-Barr stores in St. Louis and then for Macy's in St. Louis. In her 60's she worked longer hours than I care to. There are several St. Louis Charities that owe their start and continued success to Helen.

Alberta Slavin. One day, while in Europe, Alberta bought a telephone. Not only could she not plug in the phone to her house, the phone company would not do it either. In fact, they told her it was illegal to use your own phone. So she sued them. She won. If you are under 30, this last paragraph must look like something from JK Rowlling. It's not. After that, Alberta became a consumer rights advocate.

The women on my mother's side of the family. My grandmother was a suffragette. She marched for the right to vote in the late teens. If you think PhotoID is a block to voting, try police on horseback. My Great grandmother. She was pro-choice before Roe or Wade were ever born. The decision to not be pregnant in a terrible second marriage nearly killed her.

Rowling is high on my list these days. She is our Tolkein, and the fact that most kids don't see the fact that they are of different genders as anything remarkable. Those of us who are old appreciate that even more.

In real life, my Nana, Rosina Maria Pugliese Reschini. Started her own business in 1938 - the only one of the eight kids in her family who did not go to college. She worked, raised two kids, founded numerous charities, including the "Christmas Angel" program - which would later become the Angel Tree project - and somehow learned to survive an old-school Italian marriage. Every time I think I have it tough, I remember that if I had to do deal with all that, I'd be in an institution. Penal, Mental, something. And she wore heals through all of it- including when she scrubbed floors in the Meals on Wheels kitchen.

I should have slapped myself upside the head when I read this blog.
The most obvious role model in my life is my Husband.
When I first met him he charmed me with his looks, charm and personality. What girl would not want him?
As we progressed I learned that he had literally self educated himself in a one room schoolhouse.
He routed out all the available books and when that wasn't enough he would wait until the new school came along.
He always excelled in every field of endeavour through life. He taught himself or would seek the info he needed to succeed.

The most amazing characteristic of this man is that he does not need to be reassured. He does not thrive on outer kudos or compliments. In fact he complements me since I am the seeker of truth in all things motivational and fulfillment.
Even, now he suffers in pain but his mind overcomes his problems and he makes our life more enjoyable.
Yes, indeed. I am one lucky woman to know him and others like him who make the world a better place.

Nancy P., I've always said that if you have to do something you don't want to do, then do it with a cheerful countenance. No brownie points if you do it, but do it grudgingly. Michele Obama certainly personifies my philosophy.

Nancy, I love you to pieces, but have to disagree in every way about Lady Gaga. She has been the most amazing and nurturing role model for so many teens and pre-teens and 20-somethings. I am entirely sure that there are more sensitive and talented young people alive today than we will ever know about because of her message of hope for the non-mainstream and disenfranchised.

So I say - I hope I can do a fraction as well as Lady Gaga has in the positive contributions department. And yes, Oprah.

That is - kids who are alive rather than dead - by suicide.

Mary, we would never eat your comments. Although they're always delicious.

Diana, it sounds as if you have a lot of heroes in your family.

Cyranetta (and someday we want to hear how your got your name) I have a great quote from Molly Ivins around here somewhere, but my deks is such a mess I can't find it. I will keep looking.

Oh Hank . . . Christa McAuliffe, the girl from Columbia Point.

Xena, I think I might use that vision too. "Falling down panthouse..." god, what an image of truth and fight.

Barbara and Nancy M . . . the Oprah-Rowling interview. One I missed. Going to find it now.

A yes to Michelle O. and Jackie O.

Alex, serves me right for making a smartass remark without really knowing who Lady Gaga is. I stand corrected.

Alex, I love Lady Gaga. A social justice prodigy.

Yes to Molly Ivins . . . and Simone de Beauvoir, and Mary Shelley, and all those women writers from earlier times, the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf . .

A movie star I claim as a role model (although she's not really old enough, maybe) is Meryl Streep.

And my mom was a role model, stepping out of the family comfort zone to go to college, and later raising 8 kids alone as a college professor in a department filled with men,

And yes, yes, Betty Ford! I raise my coffee cup in a toast to her.

In the same row of wonderful women such as Erma Bombeck is Peg Bracken (The I Hate To Cookbook). She got me through several crises in my early marriage---kitchenwise that is. But my ideal role model is a composite of so many women that it's hard to say which is the most influential...each in their own way inspire me. But I can definitely that JLo is not one of them. Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sally Ride, Temple Grandin, Hillary, Michelle Obama, Lauren Bacall, Agatha Christie...and the list grows. Betty Ford was one of my favorite First Ladies. She was gracious and caring and straight forward when it wasn't fashionable to be that way. We owe her quite a bit.

Oh! And Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, and Christiane Amanpour, and every woman who's defied the Taliban in any small way, or simply survived them . . .

Since I've been traveling all day, driving home to Cincinnati from wa-a-a-y up north in Michigan, it's taken me this long to get back.

First, thank you, Nancy, for the link to the Bill Moyers book. It does sound fascinating! Too bad there aren't more like him.

Second, I'm surprised no one has mentioned Caroline Kennedy, or Robert Kennedy, Jr., both of whom have done amazing things with their wealth and fame. Jamie Curtis, too; she has written several children's books, and she famously rejected having her image prettied up beyond how she really looks. I love how she advocates for aging gracefully.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

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