RIP Betty Ford, April 8, 1918 – July 8, 2011

By Alfie Paul

In honor of the passing of former First Lady Betty Ford, we thought we would find her in the records. Obviously, there is more to be found in the Ford Presidential Library but she can be found in our corner of NARA as well.

Elizabeth Ann Bloomer Warren Ford, Betty, was First Lady of the United States from 1974 – 1977 when her husband, Gerald Ford, assumed the presidency after the resignation of President Nixon. Though she was First Lady for not quite a full term, she became one of the most loved and respected for her candid commentary and openness about struggles with both breast cancer and substance abuse.

The life of any American First Lady is filled with high-profile meetings with people from around the globe. Those meetings are often very carefully scripted and stage managed. In 1975, the wife of the French president, Madame Anne-Aymone Giscard d’Estaing visited the United States and Mrs. Ford “agreed to receive [her] at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 15” for tea.

The above quote was found in a series from Record Group 59, Department of State, called Files of Visits from Heads of Government, Dignitaries and Delegations, 1928-1976, (NAID 4222030). A file in the series is devoted to Madame Giscard d’Estaing’s visit. It includes, for Mrs. Ford and her staff, biographical sketches and suggested “talking points” for the first lady:

• Welcome Mrs. Giscard d’Estaing to the US and note how disappointed she was to have been unable to meet her in Martinique.
• Mention how much Miss Susan Ford enjoyed meeting Miss Valerie-Anne Giscard d’Estaing last month.
• Note that Miss Ford attends the Holton Arms School and ask whether it is true that Mrs. Giscard d’Estaing’ s mother also attended the school.
• Inquire about both her visit to the New York City Ballet Festival and her trip to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center with Mrs. Rockefeller
• Discuss the respective roles of First Ladies in the US and France noting that the wife of the American President is traditionally quite involved in her husband’s political life.

The last point was emphasized as, apparently, the French first lady was not particularly interested in politics. The other documents in the file relating to the visit with Mrs. Ford demonstrate how a simple tea at the White House can involve many more than the two ladies who met.

Our condolences go out to the Ford family.

Official White House Photograph of Betty Ford

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