Betty Ford passed away Friday night of unknown causes, leaving behind an enduring legacy and prompting statements from President Barack Obama and others. NY1’s Elizabeth Kaledin filed the following report.
Betty Ford's life in the political spotlight started quickly after her marriage to Gerald Ford, who was elected to Congress two weeks after their wedding.
As first lady, she developed her own persona beyond the White House and was known for speaking out on abortion rights and women in the workplace.
Also, the mother of four children, she was considered strong, active, and most of all, candid.
"It has been the outgrowth of my own health that has made it possible for me to go ahead and in my way, share what I learned with others," Ford once said in an interview.
Before 1974, it was almost unheard of for a first lady to publicly mention personal problems.
In the first year of her husband's presidency, she announced she had breast cancer and would undergo a mastectomy.
And then Mrs. Ford disclosed publicly that she had for years abused alcohol and prescription drugs, becoming the first major political figure to openly address a problem that plagued millions.
The Betty Ford Center for Substance Abuse will be her greatest legacy.
"It has been, from the very first day, a place for any man or woman who wanted help," said John Schwarzlose, the original director of the Betty Ford Center.
"I think she educated a generation that needed education, that needed support in how to deal with these problems," said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jaffe.
Mrs. Ford kept largely out of the public eye in her latter years.
Most Americans saw her for the first time in more than a decade at the funeral and burial of her husband.
It was a four-day period of national mourning and, although she looked fragile, she never wavered.
The treatment center she helped create will be a memorial for generations to come.
In a statement, President Barack Obama said, "While her death is a cause for sadness, we know that organizations such as the Betty Ford Center will honor her legacy by giving countless Americans a new lease on life.''
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush also praised Ford for her courage and compassion.
Ford will be buried in Michigan beside her husband, who died in 2006.