I love this sentence from a Washington Post report on Betty Ford's memorial service:

Betty Ford, a self-proclaimed “ordinary" woman who never cared for political life but made a liberating adventure out of her 30 months as first lady, died Friday at age 93.

America's love affair with one of its most iconoclastic first ladies has poured out over the past few days with fond remembrances of her outspoken honesty and triumphs over breast cancer and addiction.

From a personal standpoint, I couldn't help but reminisce about my early days on Capitol Hill as an aide to Congressman Clarence J. “Bud" Brown, who, along with his wife, Joyce, was close friends with the accidental president and first lady.

I well remember meeting President Ford on my first visit to the White House Rose Garden (with a delegation from the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation). And I remember the pride I felt that Bud and Joyce often were invited to small private parties at the White House. It seemed that as a very young man I was only a half step away from great power and influence.

Mrs. Ford's ability to publicly disagree with her husband on policy issues, while still adoring him and enjoying his respect, tolerance and deep love, in a way symbolized life in the Nation's Capital in that era.

The issues were no less critical and the differences between the parties no less intractable than today. Inflation raged, the energy crisis loomed, the Cold War simmered ominously, and American cities were fighting for their very survival. Much like today, Republicans and Democrats battled endlessly with very different world views about the role of government.

Still, as with Jerry and Betty Ford, differences on issues were not incompatible with friendship and respect. Members on both sides of the aisle fought hard for their principles, but maintained a decorum that facilitated compromise when necessary in the nation's interest.

I was pleased to read that Betty Ford wanted her funeral to recall those times. The Post reported that she asked Cokie Roberts – the daughter of the Fords' political rivals and deep personal friends, Hale and Lindy Boggs – to speak at her service about “'A time in Washington when Democrats and Republicans used to be friends, when their families were all friends,' Roberts told us Monday. 'The main message she wanted me to say is when you're friends, government works. It's like she planned it for this week.'"

Mrs. Ford also asked former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, whose husband defeated President Ford in 1976, to speak at the service – a profound symbol that political opposition should not transcend civility.

If today's politicians, interest groups and media would take Mrs. Ford's message to heart, we might see these interminably ugly political battles yield to a willingness to find a middle ground that serves the interests of all.

Roger Bolton
SVP, Communications, Aetna (Retd.)
Senior Counselor, RBC Strategic Consulting