95.3 / 88.5 FM Grand Rapids and 95.3 FM Muskegon
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.S. Postal Service commemorating and celebrating the life and legacy of First Lady Betty Ford with issuance of Forever Stamp

First Lady Betty Ford Forever stamp
United States Postal Service
United States Postal Service
First Lady Betty Ford Forever stamp

The stamp dedication ceremony is Friday, April 5th in Rancho Mirage, California. Last month, at the White House, Susan Ford Bales, daughter of former President Gerald R. Ford, and former First Lady Betty Ford, honored her mother during the postage stamp unveiling.

Susan Ford Bales: Dr. Biden, Postmaster General DeJoy, Dr. Lee, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, what an exciting day. Thank you to the Postmaster General DeJoy and the United States Postal Service. The stamp in a word is beautiful. Mom would be so happy with it. So, on behalf of mom, my heartfelt gratitude goes to everyone at the Postal Service for making this stamp a shining example.

Dr. Biden, I cannot express how grateful I am for your kindness in hosting this ceremony. Thank you for your great works here in America and around the world that you carry out with such strength and grace. Mom and Dad would be so proud, as I am, that you are our nation's First Lady. Thank you, Dr. Biden, from the bottom of my heart.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's great to be back home. But it's also really exciting to be back in the East Room. This room is where my high school classmates and I held our senior prom. And a reminder, all the information about the after-prom party up on the third floor that night is still highly classified. It is super-duper top secret. Not even the President knows.

But return with me now to an autumn afternoon in 1974 to a small room upstairs in the family quarters. That afternoon, my exciting life in the White House was shattered. My mother took me aside and whispered four words to me, I have breast cancer. And in those days, her diagnosis was grim. Mom likely was going to die. But the unavoidable fear, the kind that reaches down into the pit of your stomach, was wrenching. And just because we were sitting here in the White House and mom, the First Lady, didn't help one bit.

I recall mom's conversation with dad and me about whether to share her diagnosis and mastectomy with the public. Should she announce that she has cancer, should anyone, much less the First Lady, dare say the word breast in public? How much should we talk about this, something so personal, to any woman cancer of the breast?

My mom's reaction was swift, no way. Mom ought to be able to deal with this privately with her life-threatening diagnosis. I wanted her to do what so many other women had done, simply mention that she was having so-called female problems and would undergo exploratory surgery. She bluntly disagreed. She said, the time for women hiding this disease in shame and behind closed doors has to stop. And who better to make that happen than the First Lady of the United States?

So, Mom announced to the public exactly, and I mean exactly, what was happening to her. She took the brave yet controversial step and told the world the truth about her disease. And with those same four words she whispered to me, my mom announced that she had breast cancer. Instantly, the arc of women's health and the future lives of tens of millions of women has been changed forever. In addition, the moment marked a permanent transformation of the role in the public expectations of our First Ladies.

Four years later, dad and our family had another jarring conversation with mom. We explained to her the devastating effects that her addiction in prescription pain medicines and alcohol were having on mom and all of us. She bravely entered treatment and the rest of it as they say is history.

Back then stigma of prescription and alcohol addiction. was cynical as it was cruel. Most often it was confused incorrectly with individual moral failure and a failure caused solely by personal choice. Nevertheless, mom refused to hide in the dark of secrecy and shame. Instead, she went public. And oh, do I mean she went public. She candidly discussed her condition and treatment. She demonstrated by word and deed that in seeking treatment, what some might call for personal weakness, is in truth the hopeful pathway to renewal.

But mom didn't stop with her public announcement. She and Ambassador Firestone created the Betty Ford Center, a treatment facility that four decades ago is still recognized around the globe as a gold standard for treatment and of those suffering from substance use disorder, and most importantly, for their families and their children.

In reflecting on mom's enduring legacy, historian Richard Norton Smith concluded, where women's health issues are concerned, the American history is divided into very unequal periods, before Betty and after Betty.

Today, the Postal Service and the American people pay tribute to a woman of extraordinary courage and candor, to a transformative First Lady and to a devoted wife. And in doing so, they honor a woman that today and, in every tomorrow, I am so proud to call my mom.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining me in this tribute. So, in closing, please permit me a personal reflection. Recalling the words of President John Adams etched on the fireplace mantle just down the hall. I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house. On the First Lady, Jill Biden, and President Joe Biden, and the entire First Family. May God bless and keep you all safe and the men and women of the Postal Service and the nation that they serve with dedication and integrity. And may God's perpetual light watch over Betty Ford and her husband, Gerald R. Ford. Thank you all very, very much.

Patrick Center: That was Susan Ford Bales honoring her mother, First Lady Betty Ford, during the unveiling of the United States Postal Service's Betty Ford Forever stamp. Her remarks were delivered Wednesday, March 6th, from the White House East Room.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.