Presidents' wives are usually attractive appendages to their husbands; only a handful have managed to break out of that mold and gain a persona of their own. Their names: Martha, Dolley, Eleanor, Jacqueline and Betty. Of these, only Eleanor Roosevelt and Betty Ford have understood the power of the position and used it as a force for good and for national change.
Mrs. Ford, now 66, has been candid (in 1974 she publicly revealed her breast cancer, inspiring women across America to seek checkups; four years later she announced her alcoholism and addiction to painkillers). She has been pragmatic, spearheading a $5 million fund-raising campaign for a Rancho Mirage, Calif. treatment facility. The Betty Ford Center, which claims the above-mentioned celebrities among its 2,000 graduates, offers a program of "loving pressure" that is becoming the role model for other centers.
At the clinic Mrs. Ford is a visible and verbal presence at least once per 28-day cycle (the minimum stay for inpatients). Center officials have urged her to videotape her supportive message, but to no avail. Liza Minnelli, whose cure at the clinic is a fresh and glowing memory, says of the force behind it all: "Here's this woman who had a problem, dealt with it, and then not only told the world about it, she made it possible for others to get help too. How can you top that?"