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Mourning the woman who put Rancho Mirage on the map

Nikki Cole of Sparta, Mich., and her children, Makenzie, 6, and Nathan, 15, place candles outside the reserved burial spot for Betty Ford, next to former President Gerald Ford, in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Friday.

Associated Press

Nikki Cole of Sparta, Mich., and her children, Makenzie, 6, and Nathan, 15, place candles outside the reserved burial spot for Betty Ford, next to former President Gerald Ford, in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Friday.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Rancho Mirage was just a dot in a desert valley east of Los Angeles until Betty Ford put it on the map with a rehab center that treated a stream of Hollywood high-rollers and spiraling stars that spanned generations, from Elizabeth Taylor to Lindsay Lohan.

When she died Friday, she had outlived some of her most famous celebrity successes and saved the lives of many more.

Ford died at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, the desert golf community where she settled with former President Gerald Ford after he left office in 1976. She was 93. Her husband, the nation's 38th president, died in 2006 at age 93.

Public and private memorials will be held in California and Michigan this week for Betty Ford. Ceremonies will be held Tuesday at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif., and Wednesday night in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she will be laid to rest next to her husband on Thursday.

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.

One of Ford's defining characteristics was her candor, and that included confronting her own addiction head-on. She revealed a longtime addiction to painkillers and alcohol 15 months after leaving the White House, and 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."

During treatment, patients live in seclusion at the Betty Ford Center, which is surrounded by tall, lush hedges and accessed by a private lane guarded by a security checkpoint. The center distinguished itself from later iterations of rehabs that catered to the wealthy, ones that resembled spas more than an environment to honestly confront one's demons.

Mourning the woman who put Rancho Mirage on the map 07/09/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 9, 2011 9:36pm]
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