On the former First Lady Betty Ford
On Tuesday, I traveled to St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert to attend the memorial services for former First Lady Betty Ford. It was a truly beautiful and moving service that honored the spirit of my dear friend with an extraordinary sense of peace and grace. I wish you all could have been there with me, and in so many ways I felt you there in spirit.
Sitting in front of me were Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Roselyn Carter—each one there in friendship and respect for the remarkable woman they had learned so much from and loved so dearly over the years. I thought about how Mrs. Ford shook convention by announcing to the world that she had breast cancer and how she invited us all to witness her experience in such a personal way. Someone pointed out at the service that she “introduced an entire generation to the whispers of breast cancer.” And she did, it’s true. She was a great inspiration for my sister Susan who fought valiantly but ultimately lost her battle with breast cancer. She was an inspiration and a catalyst for me too, especially in those early years after Suzy died—she gave so freely of her time and her wisdom. Standing beside us at fundraisers and early events, Betty Ford infused our actions with confidence and made our fledgling group feel that we could change things, we could make a difference, we could end breast cancer forever.
I considered Betty Ford a dear friend and knew I could always count on her guidance. When I discovered the lump in my own breast that was diagnosed as breast cancer, she was the first to call. She helped me stay clear and think beyond the terror, offering words of encouragement that have stayed with me for almost 30 years. I am grateful for the voice she helped me strengthen in myself and raise in concert with so many others.
Because Betty Ford was brave enough to be herself and speak her own mind, millions have found their voices too. Together we’ve brought the call-to-action to end breast cancer from a fearful whisper to an undeniable roar. And as a result, breast cancer death rates are falling; treatments are improved, millions are screened, and women everywhere know that they are never alone with this disease. This is the door that Betty Ford opened for us. With gratitude for the bold and courageous life that she lived, we must keep that door open and never let complacency allow us to give up the fight.
It was truly a privilege to sit in that beautiful sanctuary where the woman who made such a difference in my sister’s life, and in my own, was being honored—and to offer thanks for the extraordinary work that she did here on Earth. Let us learn from her life well-lived, a woman not afraid to be herself; who took on our issues, told us not to be afraid, helped us find our voices and showed us we could change. May she rest in exquisite peace.
About the author
Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker founded Susan G. Komen on a promise she made to her sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer. She led a relentless breast cancer information and awareness campaign and succeeded in breaching the silence surrounding the disease, fundamentally changing the way it is talked about and treated. She started the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure® and also pioneered cause-related marketing, both of which have had a profound impact on the breast cancer movement. An outspoken champion of all people with breast cancer as well as those who are at risk for developing the disease, Ambassador Brinker takes her cause and her passion all over the world, seeking the fresh input and international partnerships essential to ending breast cancer forever. Among her many leadership roles, Brinker served as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary from 2001-2003 and as U.S. Chief of Protocol from 2007-2009.