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Betty Ford: First Lady, Women's Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer

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An intimate and insightful biography of Betty Ford, the groundbreaking, candid, and resilient First Lady and wife of President Gerald Ford, from the #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of Five Presidents and Mrs. Kennedy and Me.

Betty Ford: First Lady, Women’s Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer is the inspiring story of an ordinary Midwestern girl thrust onto the world stage and into the White House under extraordinary circumstances. Setting a precedent as First Lady, Betty Ford refused to be silenced by her critics as she publicly championed equal rights for women, and spoke out about issues that had previously been taboo—breast cancer, depression, abortion, and sexuality. Privately, there were signs something was wrong. After a painful intervention by her family, she admitted to an addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. Her courageous decision to speak out publicly sparked a national dialogue, and in 1982, she co-founded the Betty Ford Center, which revolutionized treatment for alcoholism and inspired the modern concept of recovery.

Lisa McCubbin also brings to light Gerald and Betty Ford’s sweeping love story: from Michigan to the White House, until their dying days, their relationship was that of a man and woman utterly devoted to one another other—a relationship built on trust, respect, and an unquantifiable chemistry.

Based on intimate in-depth interviews with all four of her children, Susan Ford Bales, Michael Ford, Jack Ford, and Steven Ford, as well as family friends, and colleagues, Betty Ford: First Lady, Women’s Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer is a deeply personal, empathic portrait of an outspoken First Lady, who was first and foremost a devoted wife and mother. With poignant details and rare insight, McCubbin reveals a fiercely independent woman who had a lively sense of humor, unwavering faith, and an indomitable spirit—the true story behind one of the most admired and influential women of our time.

432 pages, Hardcover

First published September 11, 2018

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About the author

Lisa McCubbin Hill

6 books124 followers
Lisa McCubbin Hill is a #1 New York Times bestselling author. While writing her first book The Kennedy Detail in 2009, she interviewed the legendary Secret Service Agent Clint Hill. Assigned to protect Jacqueline Kennedy, Hill was honored for his bravery and swift actions during the assassination of JFK.

Lisa and Clint collaborated on three subsequent NY Times bestselling books about Hill's fascinating career serving five presidents, including the 2012 #1 bestseller, Mrs. Kennedy and Me and Five Presidents.

In 2021, Lisa and Clint married and she changed her name to Lisa McCubbin Hill.
Their fourth book together, My Travels with Mrs. Kennedy, (October 2022) is the moving story of Hill's discovery of long-forgotten memorabilia in an old trunk, which sparked priceless memories of his years traveling with Jacqueline Kennedy from 1960 to 1964.

Lisa is also the author of the highly-acclaimed BETTY FORD: First Lady, Women's Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer, the first in-depth biography of one of the most influential and admired American first ladies.

Prior to becoming a full-time author, Lisa was television news anchor and reporter, hosted her own radio show, and spent more than five years in the Middle East as a freelance writer. She received an Emmy nomination for the 2010 Discovery Channel documentary, THE KENNEDY DETAIL, based on the book.

The proud mother of two sons and a daughter-in-law, Lisa lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with husband Clint Hill and their black and white labradoodle "Dazzle."

Email Lisa@LisaMcCubbin.com. She loves to hear from her readers!

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 249 reviews
Profile Image for Lorna.
719 reviews418 followers
February 7, 2019
Betty Ford: First Lady, Women's Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer was a meticulously researched and a delightfully told biography of one of my favorite first ladies. Being from Colorado, we first saw the Ford family come to Vail when Gerald Ford was Vice President. After the resignation of Richard Nixon, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, Ford became President of the United States, and continued to spend Christmas holidays in Vail skiing, placing this alpine village on the map. As an aside, I must say that when Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, I was with the new president as he declared that our national nightmare was over. Betty Ford first endeared herself, not only to me, but the nation, when she moved into the White House announcing that she would not have a separate bedroom, soon followed by the announcement that she had breast cancer. Her honesty in dealing with such a devastating diagnosis opened doors for women. Betty Ford was also an unabashed feminist as she proudly wore her Equal Rights Amendment button in 1975 as women were still struggling for equal rights. She later led the honest examination of the problem of drug and alcohol addiction as she bravely went into rehabilitation after a painful but loving intervention by her family. In their retirement years, the Fords spent much of their time in Colorado and were embraced and loved by all of us. I have many fond memories of the lighting of the Christmas Tree in downtown Vail, or a lovely summer evening at Bravo Vail when the Fords joined us in the rapture of a symphony in the beautiful outdoor venue of the Gerald Ford Amphitheater followed by a walk in the beautiful and iconic Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. This was a beautiful family; in leaving the White House, as Betty Ford is walking away with the White House photographer, she confesses that she always wanted to dance on the Cabinet Room table; an iconic photograph.

"Nestled at the base of the majestic snow-drenched mountains was the charming village of Vail. It was just a few blocks long at that time, and it looked like someone had taken a little town from Austria or Switzerland and plopped it right in the middle of Colorado."

"It was not a long address, but for years to come, the passage that all would remember was when he declared, 'My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over."

Profile Image for Laura Noggle.
682 reviews396 followers
December 5, 2018
What an absolutely lovely biography.

I went into this almost completely blind and was pleasantly surprised.

Betty Ford was a strong, unique woman who wasn't afraid to speak her mind, especially about women's issues/rights, mental health, sex, and addiction. In the mid 1970s mind you.

She was also one of the first First Lady's to openly sleep in the same bedroom as her husband, which was news to me.

Random Observation: Two weeks ago I first heard about the song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" in an impossible game of charades. I had to laugh when it popped up in this book.
Profile Image for TL .
1,877 reviews53 followers
October 21, 2019
What a Lady. What a life.

*listened to with Overdrive app *
Profile Image for Daniel Myatt.
625 reviews52 followers
May 30, 2022
A brilliant biography on someone I knew so little about.

She was born a fighter and certainly lived a fighter too.

Very much an Interesting, informative and inspiring read.
464 reviews4 followers
September 24, 2018
Other reviews from persons who heard of but knew little of Betty Ford make me feel ancient. In 1987 I stood in a line (Crown Books in D.C.) to have that lovely lady sign her memoir for life long Democrat me. Though I own that account of her triumph over addiction and her earlier First Lady memoir, I enjoyed this new book very much. It combines material from Mrs. Ford's own accounts with a number of new interviews with those who knew her, and the introduction is penned by her daughter Susan. For anyone who lived through Watergate and the Ford's coming to the White House, Mrs. Ford's candor and honesty about her breast cancer diagnosis and surgery dramatically set the tone for a new era in discussion of women's health. I recall talking with college friends following her Morley Safer interview and her modern and to many shocking views on pre-marital sex. (Her reaction years later to daughter Susan's plan to move in with a boyfriend is eye-opening.) Honesty about her health and moral/cultural issues merely previewed her courage and forthrightness in confronting drug and alcohol addiction. Through these upheavals Betty Ford remained an example of beauty and class. This is the story of a girl from the Midwest who dreams big, goes to New York to dance with Martha Graham, and, returning home marries a man as many did in those years after World War II. But that man became a Congressman and, in incredible circumstance, Vice President and President. We received much more from his First Lady than anyone could have imagined. Truly, as historian Richard Norton Smith observed in her eulogy, the history of women's health in this country may be divided Before Betty and After Betty.
Profile Image for Kayo.
2,438 reviews39 followers
July 17, 2018
What a great read. Loved reading about Betty Ford and her background. Touching and super interesting. Made me love and respect the Fords. Nice book.

Thanks to author,publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book. While I got the book for free, it had no bearing on the rating I gave it.
Profile Image for Suzan.
827 reviews
January 28, 2019
A lovely biography and an interesting refresher on historical events, like Watergate and how Gerald Ford became Vice President and then President of the United States. I remember Betty Ford being a breast cancer survivor but I did not realize that the way she was so open and candid about it was groundbreaking at that time. “...in 1974, a breast cancer diagnosis was akin to a death sentence.” People didn’t speak about it openly, until Betty Ford. After going public with her diagnosis and mastectomy, “What happened next was remarkable. Across the country, the phone lines at doctors offices and organizations such as the American Cancer Society were inundated with calls from women-thousands upon thousands of women-looking to make appointments for breast exams... Literally overnight, Betty Ford removed the stigma from breast cancer. No longer was it a source of shame, but a disease like any other that needed to be addressed and treated.” She also did wonders to help take away the shame and stigma of alcoholism and drug addiction. I think what I loved the most about this book was learning more about the deep love and dedication that Betty and Gerald Ford had for one another. After he died, she slept with the flag that had been draped over his casket, on the pillow beside her until her death 5 years later. “ I just want to go see my boyfriend, “she’d say. “That’s all I want to do.” She was a remarkable woman.
Profile Image for Sonja.
243 reviews
April 22, 2021
Going into this book I knew almost nothing about former first lady Betty Ford. I mostly had heard about the Betty Ford Clinic. That in itself is kind of sad. As with almost all addicts, they are far more than just the addiction. Second, I went to school when they taught history and in college I took a women in history class. She was little more than a footnote as Ford’s wife. She was a strong woman with her own opinion and she was unapologetic when giving them. Brutally honest! Always classy. Never would had made in today PC culture.
A quick Google search will tell you most of what is written in this biography is true although I did feel the book was slanted in Betty’s favor. It seems like it left out a few thing and added some fancy bows to dress up the less attractive character points.
Still well worth the read.
Profile Image for Kristin.
68 reviews2 followers
August 28, 2022

"Betty Ford"
by Lisa McCubbin


Wow. Betty Ford is my new role model (and new favorite first lady).

This book is more than just a simple retelling of Betty Ford's life story. This book embodies Betty's essence. Her kindness, her authenticity, her faith and her strength. It focuses on the 'why' as much as the 'what' which creates an emotional bond to the reader that is critical to understanding and growing from Betty's story.

Before she was a politician's wife, Betty was a spunky 'tell it like it is' women, a model and a professional modern dancer in New York City. She married Gerald Ford on the eve of his first political campaign which would throw her into a life she never wanted but she found a way to make it her own.

In the more conventional time of the 1950s, 60's and 70's, Betty broke the mold simply being herself. Betty spoke her mind on every topic, kindly and openly. She was a strong advocate of women's rights and the ERA (despite the fact that her husband's political party didn't agree). She normalized talking about women's issues, ushering in an unprecedented level of public awareness to topics like women's rights and breast cancer (which she had) in ways that still resonate to this day.

But Betty is most known for her biggest struggle, substance and alcohol abuse. It'd be easy to lump her in with what we think we know of drug and alcohol abuse sterotypes but in reading her story, you you see with a clear, understanding heart how she got to that point. Your heart breaks as she reaches rock bottom and you cheer as she bravely struggles to seek help and recovery. Knowing how much Betty overcame, with her trademark grace and kindness, inspires us to overcome obstacles in our own life. Knowing that Betty, famous former First Lady, is 'just like us' leaves us with a sense of strength and resolve that we can do anything.

The most touching and tear enducing element of this whole book is reading of her sweet, lifelong love affair with her husband. They had strong, mutual respect and love for each other, treating each other as true partners, equals, supporting and loving each other through good times and bad.
Profile Image for Lauren Allen.
53 reviews9 followers
September 3, 2018
Lisa McCubbin wrote a beautifully touching book about one of the most modern and influential First Ladies that this nation has ever had. Growing up in the early 80's, I did not know Beatty Ford and this book brilliantly educated me on why she was so beloved and important to our nation... and especially to us women. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Profile Image for Sidney.
187 reviews
October 31, 2018
Wow. It has been a while since I have read a book this good. Betty Ford was an incredible and inspirational woman. In addition, Lisa McCubbin did a fantastic job writing this! I wish more biographies were written this well. Fantastic book.
Profile Image for Scott  Hitchcock.
779 reviews234 followers
August 8, 2019
I think the author fell in love with the Fords. I fully acknowledge they were great people but things came off a bit too Pollyanna-ish for me. Still very informative.
Profile Image for Kristen Freiburger.
432 reviews9 followers
November 18, 2019
Living in East Grand Rapids the past 25 years I have of course heard countless stories about the Ford family. Betty grew up on Fountain which is right down the road, was married and funeral services at Grace Church where I taught Y5’s. (The “Bride Room” seems like it hasn’t been touched since she used it.) The author never met her subject and in parts this was clear. The chapters were choppy. Also, I didn’t like the butterfly reference at the end. I should have just read Betty’s memoir.
Profile Image for Literary Redhead.
1,732 reviews514 followers
July 17, 2019
“Betty Ford: First Lady, Women's Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer” by Lisa McCubbin provides an intimate look at one of America’s most beloved First Ladies. Complex and independent, Betty was a dancer before marriage, divorcee, a woman when asked about sex with her husband, the President, said she enjoyed it as often as possible. A vocal ERA supporter even when her husband was not. A breast cancer survivor and advocate. An alcoholic/prescription drug addict who entered recovery reluctantly but ultimately made admitting one’s addiction publicly acceptable, and founded the Betty Ford Clinic that helped thousands achieve sobriety. I highly recommend this compelling bio that captures Betty Ford’s great spirit and heart. 5/5

Pub Date 11 Sep 2018

Thanks to Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books and NetGalley for the review copy. Opinins are fully mine.

#BettyFord #NetGalley
Profile Image for Laura.
281 reviews
November 14, 2018
Betty Ford was always someone I admired but I really didn't know much about her. I knew she had started the Betty Ford Center and was the wife of someone I admired, Jerry Ford. Having lived in Grand Rapids as a child in the early 70's I had a fondness for the Fords. This book intrigued me, especially the title: "Betty Ford: First Lady, Women's Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer." I had to know more about this lady!
Now that I have read this warm, lovely biography, my admiration for Betty Ford has multiplied many times. I just can't say enough about how her life exemplifies honesty, courage, independence, love, honor, etc. I needed to read this book, right now. You do too!
Profile Image for Cristie Underwood.
2,275 reviews57 followers
September 11, 2018
Betty Ford was so much more than a First Lady, as she was actively involved in women's rights, substance abuse, and breast cancer work. The famous Betty Ford clinics were co-founded by Betty Ford after she bravely came forward with her own substance abuse issues. The author spoke to all of Betty's children when writing this well researched biography.
Profile Image for Leah K.
688 reviews2 followers
April 25, 2019
I went into this not knowing much about Betty Ford and it was worth learning about her. She was an amazing lady. She did awesome things. She is now a hero of mine. And her marriage with Gerald? Can you say relationship goals? This is a well written, readable biography of the former first lady. The research is definitely done. Worth the read.
Profile Image for Sarah.
126 reviews24 followers
March 4, 2020
4/5⭐️—I loved it! Lisa McCubbin has a way of making history come alive and her storytelling is fantastic. I knew very little about Betty Ford prior to this book, but now she is one of my favorite First Ladies.
248 reviews1 follower
October 18, 2018
I loved Betty Ford...her honesty, her willingness to open herself to trials and addictions she faced. Her love for her husband and her faith were a central part of her life.
Profile Image for Gretchen.
907 reviews16 followers
November 11, 2019
2.5? It was ok. I learned some things, but the tone overall was not at all objective (which I am ok with if it's justified, but this was presented as a straightforward biography). I do find both Betty Ford and the office of First Lady fascinating - it's still a political office, but one without nearly as much power or choice, and it's always interesting to see how people react. And I like Ford much more than most, although if I were searching for faults or nuanced discussion, this was not the right work.
Profile Image for Janel.
297 reviews7 followers
September 18, 2018
I love a good biography and Lisa McCubbin did not disappoint. I knew the general facts of Betty Ford’s life and the public obstacles she faced. However, I did not know the details and the impact on her family. I had a favorable opinion of Mrs Ford before reading this book and now I have such admiration for her and her family. Especially, how they turned these challenges into ways to positively impact others. I recommend this book. I’ve enjoyed all McCubbin’s books so it was no surprise that this was a highly readable and enjoyable book.
Profile Image for Ginger.
51 reviews
August 13, 2021
Wow, what a great book... totally surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Betty Ford was a strong, amazing woman. I'm inspired by her life and this book helped me see how much the words and actions of a single person can impact many.
Profile Image for Donna.
171 reviews97 followers
August 21, 2018
I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley in return for writing a review.

I love reading about first ladies, and I remember Betty Ford's tenure when I was in elementary school. While I was somewhat familiar with her accomplishments, this biography goes into detail. She was an amazing woman. I had forgotten she started out as a dancer! McCubbin shares Ford's trailblazing work on women's rights, breast cancer and substance abuse. What's so admirable about Ford is that she met her personal pain and struggles head on and used those experiences to help others. No matter your politics, you come away from this book with deep admiration for the former first lady.
Profile Image for Porter Broyles.
430 reviews44 followers
April 21, 2019
This was my first biography of a First Lady, it will NOT be my last.

This book was immensely enjoyable and informative. It was also kind of inspiring.

Betty Ford was a phenomenal woman who supported her husband’s political career---an ambition she did not know he had until he announced he was running for office!

While the book was interesting from the get go, Betty Ford become a force to be reckoned with after Gerald became President.

Less than 2 months after her husband became president, Betty Ford went to the doctor for a routine health exam. During that exam the doctors discovered that she had breast cancer. In 1974, breast cancer was often a fatal disease and one that people did not discuss openly. The Ford’s, however, had made a commitment to be open with the American Public (they knew their presidency was tainted with Nixon’s secrecy and deceitfulness).

A few days later, she had surgery wherein the doctors removed one of her breast. Instead of hiding, she used her experience to educate the public on the importance of breast exams. Virtually overnight the public perception of the disease turned around and routine exams started saving millions of lives. A week after her surgery, she was walking with her husband and a number of aids in the hospital. President Ford gave her a football signed by the Washington Redskins; she threw the ball to her husband. This moment was caught on film. The joy on her face (and those around her) showed that her losing a breast had not defeated her. The photo became iconic among breast cancer survivors and advocates. When the Susan G Komen foundation began, the first recipient of their award was Betty Ford and it was named after her because of her role in the fight against Breast Cancer.

After leaving the White House, her family confronted her about her addiction. She had become addicted pain medicine and alcohol. Again, even though they were no longer in office, they were open about her entering rehab. Reluctantly Betty Ford allowed her experience in rehab to be included in her biography “The Times of My Life.” After being interviewed by Larry King about her addiction, hospitals and rehab centers reported an increase in calls from people seeking help. After helping a friend face his addiction, the two of them set about to open a world-class rehab facility---the Betty Ford Clinic. Her involvement in bringing the alcohol/addiction and treatment to the forefront of Americans earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the second First Lady so honored).

While those are two of the more prominent incidents covered in the book, they are not the only ones. Betty was a vocal supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, pro-choice movement, and CB enthusiast (First Mama was her CB Handle). She was the first First Lady to make a cameo on sit-com (look up her bit on the Mary Tyler Moore show, it is hilarious). She went out of her way to acknowledge and recognize those who worked for her.

She was a class act.

As I listened to the audiobook, I did not have the photo section of the book---but I did more google searches while listening to this book than I usually do. A photo would be described or discussed and I had to look it up. An interview would be mentioned and I had to watch it.

This book was an absolute delight to listen to.
Profile Image for Danielle Josephine.
131 reviews3 followers
September 21, 2018
Being from the same hometown, I thought I knew a lot about Betty Ford. I had barely scratched the surface of the depth that Lisa McCubbin has gone to in this beautifully written biography of one of my favorite First Ladies. I love that the stories were told so well and that as I read them—whether it was her dancing, her campaigning, her breast cancer diagnosis or her time in rehab, I felt as if I was transported back to each of those moments in history. Highly recommend this book, but also recommend having some Kleenex nearby!
Profile Image for Angela.
592 reviews
October 4, 2019
This biography is an excellent and inspiring portrait of Betty Ford. What an interesting peek into her life, her husband's life, the White House, being First Lady, breast cancer (and what a long way treatment has come) and addiction (and again what a long way treatment has come). I love Betty's spirit and outspokenness and have a great admiration for her after reading (listening to) this book. The audiobook narration took a little getting used to -- almost like the narrator's voice/speed had been manipulated a bit? But still well done.
Profile Image for Randi.
76 reviews32 followers
November 9, 2018
Betty Ford has been my favorite first lady for many years and this book only confirmed why I love her so. Never has there been a first lady who showed such vulnerability and compassion. I have so many people I love who struggle with addiction and I love what she did to remove the stigma it often brings. Big heart eyes for this book. Kudos if you can make it through the forward written by her daughter without bawling your eyes out <3
Profile Image for Sean Kottke.
1,905 reviews29 followers
October 27, 2018
A superb and revelatory biography of a First Lady who broke the mold before, during, and after her time in the White House. It has the intimacy of a biography written by an author with first-hand access to the subject, which is a testament both to McCubbin's talents and the public candor of Betty Ford. I met Gerald Ford once; after reading this, I wish I had had the opportunity to meet Betty.
October 29, 2018
Lisa McCubbin’s new book tells the unique story of a remarkable American woman, Betty Bloomer Ford. She was a former dancer, model and recent divorcee when she met fellow Michigander Gerald Ford. After dating Betty for six months, Jerry offhandedly proposed by saying, “I’d like to marry you.” The proposal came with a caveat: “We can’t get married until next fall, and I can’t tell you why.” Betty quickly accepted. Two months later, Jerry confessed that he was going to run for Congress. At the time, she did not appreciate the significance of his ambition, but if this was what he truly wanted to do, then she was all in.

Two weeks after their October 1948 wedding, Jerry won a seat in Congress. And as they say, “The rest is history.”

Those next years were very busy ones. Four young children and the social obligations of a Congressman’s wife kept Betty on the go, and she was fortunate to have a housekeeper named Clara who became like a second mother to the kids. And as Jerry’s success in Washington grew, he spent a great deal of time traveling. All Betty ever really wanted was to be with Jerry and their children, and to return to Michigan to raise their family. This was not happening.

In 1964, Betty experienced a pinched nerve in her neck that caused excruciating pain. Only strong medications would relieve the pain, and all too easily she became addicted. Add the evening cocktails, and a recipe for disaster was in the making.

Jerry’s career continued to thrive, and eventually he became vice president to Richard Nixon. Then came Watergate. Nixon resigned in disgrace, and Jerry became president, something he never imagined or wanted. When he took the oath of office, Betty would say years later that it was the saddest day of her life.

Betty’s personal life continued to spiral out of control, which eventually led to her being admitted to a rehabilitation facility for treatment of both drug addiction and alcoholism. Ultimately, Betty and a friend and neighbor, Leonard Firestone, who was also a recovering alcoholic, went on to create a rehabilitation facility in California that is world-renowned. She had the name recognition and Leonard had the finances and connections to make this huge undertaking a reality. It opened in 1982. And even now, when the anchorperson mentions on the evening news that such and such celebrity “had been admitted to Betty Ford,” it is immediately understood what that means.

In addition to shedding a bright light on the problems of addiction and alcoholism, Betty is linked to breast cancer awareness and finding a cure. It seems that for every devastating medical problem that Betty suffered, she was able to raise public awareness. It would be impossible to evaluate how much progress has been made regarding these diseases because of her willingness to be so frank about her struggles.

Betty was often criticized for being outspoken about then-socially taboo subjects, such as premarital sex and abortion, and she campaigned for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. But above all, this candid woman will be best remembered for being a champion of honesty and courage. Like Eleanor Roosevelt before her, Betty Ford shattered --- hopefully once and for all --- the stereotype of what a First Lady should be.

Reviewed by Carole Turner
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