The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation was honored to host former First Lady Rosalynn Carter as Grand Rapids celebrated what would have been Mrs. Betty Ford’s 96th birthday. “America’s First Ladies: A Journey of Friendship” focused on the personal friendship between the former First Ladies but also the passion they shared together for health issues.

Steve Ford, Chairman of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation and son of Gerald and Betty Ford, moderated the conversation with the event’s special guest. While their husbands campaigned against each other for the Presidency in 1976, with Gov. Jimmy Carter having won, there Fords and Carters would go on to become close friends throughout the rest of their lives.

Mrs. Carter touched on how much she admired and respected Mrs. Ford. Mrs. Carter first met Mrs. Ford when she was traveling as the wife of the Vice President of the United States. Mrs. Ford traveled to Atlanta, Georgia for an event and stayed with Mrs. Carter at the Governor’s mansion. Mrs. Carter recalls being nervous but was impressed with the way Mrs. Ford’s put her to ease.

Mrs. Carter candidly touched on how First Lady Betty Ford’s openness on breast cancer and her raising awareness for early detection helped bring the issue into the public conversation and saved the lives of millions of women. Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Carter publicly joined women across the country in supporting and rallying for the Equal Rights Amendment.  Mrs. Carter joined with some historians who acknowledged that Mrs. Ford’s time in the White House was the most impactful as First Lady since Elaine Roosevelt.

Sue Allen, Deb Hoogendoorn, and Judy Hooker co-hosted “America’s First Ladies” while Hoogendoorn provided the opening remarks and kicked-off the event with a video looking back on the lasting impact Mrs. Ford had on our nation.  Hoogendorn also reminded the audience that Mrs. Ford and her daughter, Susan Ford Bales, helped launch the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month while the Betty Ford Breast Care Services at Spectrum Health honors Mrs. Ford’s commitment to increasing awareness and early detection for women across globe.

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