Reporter's View: Betty Ford And My Mother

Paula Tutman Shares Her View

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - In our neck of the woods, when you say the name Ford, it means the Henry Fords, the Ford Motor Company, the things attached to a great family name in our city. But on the west side of the state, the name has a different meaning. And there's a poetic loveliness to the name Ford on a day like Wednesday.

To get to Grand Rapids, you have to drive in on Ford Freeway or fly into Ford International Airport. And to see one of America's favorite first ladies, you must get to Pearl street and the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum.

I was on vacation last Friday when I received a simple email from my mother: "My favorite First Lady has died". That's all she said and I knew she was talking about Betty Ford.

I remember when Gerald Ford was sworn into office my mother saying to my father, "She's sleeping in the same room with her husband." It was unheard of back then. The President had his bedroom and the First Lady hers.

But Betty Ford wasn't having it and it tickled my mother pink. That was just the beginning of her admiration for this particular woman. My mother loved her individuality, her zest for life and her take-no-guff demeanor.

So when I got to the museum this afternoon and saw the beautiful room set up to sign the condolence book, I signed my mother's name, and took a picture for her. When I called mom and told her, she was so grateful and thankful. "She was such a wonderful lady," my mom said.

That's what I'm hearing everywhere I go as the city of Grand Rapids prepares to welcome her home. There's not a crazy rush, no hurried, worried faces--there's a calmness here, a dignity in rolling out the red carpet to the country to come and acknowledge, celebrate--and yes, even mourn the passing of such a wonderful lady.

Of course the camera crews are starting to arrive. Flags are being stationed for appropriate photo ops. And hotel concierges are brushing up on the best places to send people to eat. The crowds haven't started to gather yet, but you can feel them coming. It's kind of like a push on the air just before the weather changes. You can see it on the clouds, it hasn't arrived, yet, but it's close.

When her body gets here at the museum it will lie in repose. That's different from lying in state which is generally reserved for high dignitaries, often at the Capitol or Rotunda, accompanied by an honor guard. lying in repose is the next big thing, in which someone important to us is placed in a public area for all to view and pay respects.

We expect people to begin lining up well before seven this evening, and continue through the night. Perhaps the crowds will wait hours to spend a few seconds next to someone they've never personally met. But the fingers of Betty Ford's life have touched so many, it won't be like saying good bye to a distant person, but a good friend.

And I'm glad I'm here -- to represent my mother.

Paula Tutman

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