PALM DESERT, Calif. — First ladies, past and present, and others who called the White House home remembered Betty Ford on Tuesday, not just for her decades-long work against substance abuse, but for her contributions to a political era when friendship among lawmakers helped them govern.
Mrs. Ford, who died at the age of 93 Friday, reshaped the role of first lady with her plain-spoken candidness.
In doing so, she helped bring such previously taboo subjects as breast cancer into the public discussion as she openly discussed her own battle with the disease. She was equally candid about her struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, and her spearheading of the creation of the Betty Ford Center to treat those diseases has benefited thousands.
Journalist Cokie Roberts, who spoke at the service, noted that Mrs. Ford's late husband, President Gerald Ford, confided to her privately that his wife badgered him into stronger public support of equal rights for women.
First lady Michelle Obama and former first ladies Nancy Reagan and Roslynn Carter shared a pew with former President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Other mourners who packed the church included former California first lady Maria Shriver and Mrs. Ford's four children.
Other invited guests included former President Richard Nixon's daughters, Tricia Nixon-Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower; former President Lyndon Johnson's daughters Luci Baines Johnson and Lynda Bird Johnson Robb; and Robb's husband, former U.S. Sen. Charles Robb.
About 800 people attended the service at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church.
Today, Mrs. Ford's body will be flown to Grand Rapids, Mich., for another church service. On Thursday, her body will be interred at the presidential museum along with her husband on what would have his 98th birthday.