- Associated Press - Sunday, July 10, 2011

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Before she is laid to rest, Betty Ford will be memorialized in the Southern California desert region she and her rehab center made world famous by treating a stream of spiraling Hollywood stars.

Rancho Mirage was already a billionaires’ playground, but Mrs. Ford’s center made it a household name as it provided help to luminaries from ranging from Elizabeth Taylor to Lindsay Lohan.

Tributes poured in Saturday from A-listers and average residents alike in the desert golf community where Mrs. Ford settled with her husband, former President Gerald Ford, after he left office more than three decades ago.

She died of natural causes at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage on Friday at age 93, family attorney and spokesman Greg Willard said.


She will be memorialized Tuesday in California’s Coachella Valley, which includes Rancho Mirage, before her casket travels by motorcade and military transport for a private burial Thursday alongside her husband in Grand Rapids, Mich., at the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

In Rancho Mirage, residents were saddened by her death even as they praised her devotion to removing the stigma from addiction. The Betty Ford Center has treated more than 90,000 people since its beginnings in 1982, and although it was most famous for a string of celebrity patients, it kept its rates relatively affordable and provided a model for effective addiction treatment.

Mrs. Ford revealed her own longtime addiction to painkillers and alcohol 15 months after leaving the White House, and she regularly welcomed new groups of patients to rehab with a speech that started, “Hello, my name’s Betty Ford, and I’m an alcoholic and drug addict.”

Carol Pruter, 67, said she was proud that Mrs. Ford chose to set up her rehab center in Rancho Mirage and admired Mrs. Ford for making a point of reaching out to average people too, Ms. Pruter said.

“She let people know that people who aren’t well-known can get addictions, too. It’s not something for a certain part of society; it’s not something to hide,” Ms. Pruter said as she stopped by a local coffee shop in Saturday’s 104-degree desert heat.

Ms. Pruter’s family attends St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in nearby Palm Desert, where the Fords also worshipped. The church will host a tribute service Tuesday to Mrs. Ford for friends and family, and a public visitation Tuesday evening.

Mrs. Ford chose her close friend and fellow former first lady Rosalynn Carter to eulogize her in California, along with journalist Cokie Roberts and a University of Michigan dean, Jeffrey MacKie-Mason.

Mr. Willard, who has served the family since 1975, recalled the time the outspoken bosom buddies Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Carter went to Capitol Hill to lobby for mental health legislation.

“Several senators and congressmen have since observed that they have not seen a political force of nature as they did that day when they saw those women arm in arm in the halls of Congress,” Mr. Willard said Saturday.

Other residents of the desert town reminisced about the celebrity cachet that the Betty Ford Center brought to Rancho Mirage and the other desert cities in the Coachella Valley — but without the frenzy that so often accompanies the comings and goings of today’s troubled stars.

“It’s probably shallow to say, but I think it’s really cool she was able to get celebrities here,” said Pat Kellogg, who has lived in the area for 22 years.

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