Former first lady Betty Ford, widow of the late President Gerald R. Ford and the co-founder of one of the nation's most famous addiction-treatment centers, died today in Rancho Mirage at age 93.
U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, and Murrieta's congresswoman, released a statement after learning of her passing.
"Today, our nation lost a woman of immeasurable grace and purpose, former First Lady Betty Ford. I was deeply saddened to learn of her passing and my thoughts and prayers are with the entire Ford family, her staff and all those who loved and admired her as I did," Bono Mack said in the statement.
"Betty Ford was a remarkable woman who shared a special partnership with the love of her life, President Gerald Ford. Her accomplishments were groundbreaking and her gentle and kind nature were matched only by her resilience and strength."
Ford, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, served as chair of the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage until she was 88.
Born in Chicago on April 8, 1918, Elizabeth Ann (Betty) Bloomer was raised in Grand Rapids, Mich.
She attended the Bennington School of Dance in Vermont for two summers after graduating from high school in 1936, and eventually became a member of choreographer Martha Graham's Auxiliary Performance Troupe, performing at Carnegie Hall.
After moving back to Michigan, she formed her own dance group and worked with disabled children, helping them experience the rhythm of dance --beginning a lifetime of philanthropic work.
She married a salesman named William Warren in 1942, but they divorced a few years later.
After being introduced to Gerald R. Ford in 1947, she married the man who go on to become the 38th president of the United States on October 1948. Ford was elected to Congress two weeks later after they wed. He went on to serve in the House of Representatives for 25 years.
The couple had four children--Michael Gerald, now 61; John Gardner, 59; Steven Meigs, 55; and Susan Elizabeth, 54.
Not long after Gerald Ford took office as president, Betty Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her public battle with the disease and openness in discussing her condition was credited with raising public awareness of treatment options.
She continued during her husband's administration to be outspoken on women's rights, abortion rights and other hot-button topics--earning her some criticism from conservative Republicans.
After Jimmy Carter ousted Ford from the White House in 1976, the couple moved to Rancho Mirage. But Betty Ford wasn't close to retirement.
She began coping with her prescription drug and alcohol abuse when she was confronted by relatives urging her to seek help. She checked into Long Beach Naval Hospital for treatment -- a process she detailed in her 1978 autobiography.
Betty Ford went on to become one of the most famous spokeswomen for alcohol and drug treatment, co-founding the Betty Ford Center at Eisenhower Medical Center in 1982.
Betty Ford had not granted interviews since the December 2006 death of her husband.
"As one of the pioneers in the battle against substance abuse, she helped save countless lives from addiction. I will always be profoundly grateful for the help my family received from her and the Betty Ford Center that guided us through our own struggle with substance abuse," Bono Mack said.
"Betty Ford was a shining example for women everywhere and her many achievements will live on in the hearts and minds of not only the American people who she loved so dearly but also in the people she touched throughout the world."
City News Service contributed to this report.