first lady

Patricia Hill Burnett, who was famous back in the 1970s as sort of the quintessential Republican feminist, will be 94 in a few months.

She is still defiantly pro-Equal Rights Amendment, pro-choice, and on economic issues, Republican to the core.

She was runner-up to Miss America 72 years ago, and went on to become both Michigan’s unofficial state portrait painter and the woman who started the state chapter of NOW, the National Organization for Women.

Comfortably wealthy, she always dresses and talks, as Detroit News columnist Laura Berman says today, “like a local, more highly educated version of Zsa Zsa Gabor.”

I went to see her earlier this year when she was recovering from a brief illness, and she told me that she felt sad that many young women did not want to be called feminists any more.

She was also sad that younger women didn’t know anything about Betty Ford.

Lauren Gerson

Two former First Ladies will take part in a special event in Grand Rapids Monday.

Former First Ladies Barbara and Laura Bush are headlining the day-long symposium looking at the influence of First Ladies.

Elaine Didier is the Gerald R. Ford presidential museum director.   She says the Bushes have spoken at similar events at presidential museums in Texas.

“They are quite a dynamo,” says Didier, “The two have a great rapport. I mean it’s really is something……a mother-in-law / daughter-in-law first lady situation.”

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Cameras shuttered but the crowds remained silent as uniformed officers’ took Betty Ford’s casket into Grace Episcopal Church Thursday afternoon. 

John Smith walked a few blocks from his home in East Grand Rapids to watch. Smith says despite their station in life, the Ford’s never lost touch with working Americans. 

“The Fords’ represent the Camelot of the common man, and what the regular guy could aspire to as a way to live and a way to be happy and they achieved it.”

Felix de Cossio / White House

Betty Ford and her husband, the late President Gerald Ford, spent much of the past thirty years in Rancho Mirage, California. About a thousand people will attend an invitation-only funeral service today in nearby Palm Desert.

Wednesday, Mrs. Ford’s body will be flown to Michigan. A public viewing will take place tomorrow evening at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. 

A private funeral at Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids is planned for Thursday. Afterward, she will be buried next to her husband on the grounds of the presidential museum.  

Betty Ford died last week.  She was 93.

(official White House portrait)

Betty Ford said things that first ladies just don't say, even today. And 1970s America loved her for it.

According to Mrs. Ford, her young adult children probably had smoked marijuana — and if she were their age, she'd try it, too. She told "60 Minutes" she wouldn't be surprised to learn that her youngest, 18-year-old Susan, was in a sexual relationship (an embarrassed Susan issued a denial).