There's something about Betty

David Hume Kennerly made this picture the day before the Fords moved out of the White House. Taking a last tour of the West Wing, Betty Ford told him she'd always wanted to dance on the Cabinet Room table. A former Martha Graham dancer, she slipped off her shoes, hopped on the table and struck a pose.
David Hume Kennerly/Gerald Ford Presidential Library

By words and deeds, former First Lady Betty Ford left her mark on a generation of American women. Our Rita Braver says she was someone very special:

There was just something about Betty - something very different from the other First Ladies I'd been fascinated by growing up.

With Mamie Eisenhower it was all about the bangs. Jackie Kennedy was elegant and aristocratic. Lady Bird Johnson WAS always a Lady. Pat Nixon seemed scripted and formal.

But Betty Ford was funny and down-to-earth. She wasn't afraid to talk about her relationship with her husband, joking that she and the president slept together - as often as possible.

Frankly, the Fords always seemed like the nice neighbors down the street who genuinely adored each other, and their four grown kids (who she admitted might have tried marijuana).

As a young journalist, just starting to cover Washington and beginning to understand that public figures rarely say what they REALLY think, I was surprised by Betty Ford.

She called herself a feminist when that still put off some people. She said she favored abortion rights.

And she openly announced that she had breast cancer in the days when people didn't say the "C word" out loud.

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The one thing I think she did not want to admit while in the White House was her problem with alcohol and prescription drugs. Once I was watching a videotape of a White House event where she appeared to be slurring her words. Her staff insisted nothing was wrong.

In later years I was impressed that she DID go public about her addictions ... again, long before that became a widely accepted thing to do.

Mostly I remember her grace - first, when her husband unexpectedly became Vice President, then President.

When she realized she would move into the White House, she said, "They can kick me out, but they can't make me somebody I'm not."

She turned out to be both a fine First Lady ... and a Great Dame.