Betty Ford: 'It's Been A Great Trip'

Kauffman-Betty Ford
Kauffman-Betty Ford
CBS

It wasn't just Gerald Ford who found himself suddenly in the White House. It was a surprise for the new first lady as well, CBS News correspondent Hattie Kauffman reports.

"We didn't have much time to get ready. It wasn't like my husband was elected to the position," she said. "We were moved in nine days after he was sworn in."

Suddenly Betty Ford was the first lady. And almost as suddenly, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In an interview in January 2003, Mrs. Ford told CBS News she never regretted sharing the news of her mastectomy.

"It was unusual at that time," she said, adding that she was "certainly" self-conscious afterwards.

"When I came down the staircase in an evening dress, I was always thinking, well, I suppose that first appearance, they were going to look and say, 'which one was it?,'" she said, laughing.

Betty Ford also displayed courage in discussing another subject taboo in the 1970s — her addiction to alcohol. Part of her enduring legacy is the establishment of the Betty Ford Center for Addiction Treatment. Facing her addiction wasn't easy.

"Fortunately, my family saw the problem. I think I was moved when they said, 'Mother, we love you too much to let you go,'" she said.

Over the years, Betty Ford's outspokenness sometimes made more news than her husband, the president. She advocated women's rights and legalized abortion, and she seemed to be understanding of marijuana use and premarital sex.

Some have said that she defined the role of a modern first lady. "Well, I think they're stretching the point a little," Mrs. Ford said.

In recent years, she stepped back from the public spotlight to focus on her husband's declining health. They were married for 58 years.

"It's been a great, great trip," she said.