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Hillary Rodham Clinton, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb Honor Betty Ford During America’s First Ladies Presentation

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Andrea Mitchell, left, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb.
(Photo courtesy of Neil Blake, MLive)
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, daughter of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, were the featured guests during the annual luncheon presentation “America’s First Ladies: An Enduring Legacy,” which honors and celebrates the legacy of first lady Betty Ford.

Ford’s daughter Susan Ford Bales and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation hosted the event April 11 at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park to commemorate Ford’s 100th birthday.

The intimate discussion was moderated by journalist Andrea Mitchell and focused on the role Ford played, along with the other First Ladies, in bringing critical issues to the forefront.

During the presentation, Rodham Clinton, who interned for President Ford during the summer of 1968 while he was House Minority Leader, spoke about First Lady Ford’s courage and transparency about her beliefs and struggles.

Rodham Clinton recalled what it was like to witness a first lady openly support passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
“Betty Ford as the first lady speaking out in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment was astonishing,” Rodham Clinton said. “The work that she did was just like a thunderclap. People felt it, believed it, were in awe of it, and I just thought that took so much grit.”
Rodham Clinton also spoke about how Ford paved the way for public discussion about breast cancer and addiction. She said it was invigorating to have an important person, let alone the first lady, who was open, honest and personal about their struggles.
“I mean I can’t imagine how many lives she saved directly and indirectly because of her courage and facing up to her own disease,” Rodham Clinton said.
Robb reflected on the longtime friendship between the Ford and Johnson families, and shared memories from her time as a first daughter.

Robb was lighthearted in sharing stories from when she in college, and what it was like to have secret service in an all-women’s residential hall. She also spoke about how she campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment alongside Ford when Robb was chair of the National Advisory Committee for Women.

In addition to moderating the discussion, Mitchell also shared her perspective from her experiences covering first families starting with the Carter administration, as well as her decades covering national politics and foreign policy.
“What Betty Ford did was make it possible to create a whole new way of viewing the first lady,” Mitchell said.

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