Whereas most modern first ladies now choose a cause to champion, Betty Ford's cause chose her: A victim of alcohol and prescription drug addiction, she turned a personal battle into a public triumph. Rather than suffering, and perhaps failing, in shamed privacy, Mrs. Ford opened her troubled soul for all of us to see -- in an effort to save others with her famous Betty Ford Clinic.
She did. More than we'll ever know. Upon Mrs. Ford's passing Friday, Fleetwood Mac rocker Stevie Nicks told CNN that "As far as I'm concerned, Betty Ford saved my life."
While it became a fashionable friend to addicted celebrities after its founding in 1982, the clinic -- now called the Betty Ford Center -- helped many others preserve, regain or restart their lives.
But one cannot discount the eternal good that her personal courage and candor, and the center's celebrity-driven profile, did to erode the ridiculous and harmful stigmas surrounding addiction.
Betty Ford was a one-woman emancipation proclamation, freeing untold numbers of addicts from the bondage of fear and self-loathing. She brought dignity and hope to a shadowy world of shame and scorn.
And while it seems oddly quaint today -- when the fight against breast cancer is waged, sometimes indelicately, on the bumpers of cars -- Mrs. Ford was a pioneer in sharing her own struggle with a public that, back then, was too embarrassed to broach the subject much.
Mrs. Ford would often greet patient meetings with the self-effacing, "Hello, I'm Betty Ford, I'm an alcoholic and an addict."
She may have viewed it as her weakness, but it became the source of a strength for which she will forever be admired and loved. How ironic and beautiful. Through determination, self-acceptance and endless sacrifice, she took a personal imperfection and helped so many through their own.
As a result, she will be remembered as one of the finest first ladies ever to call our White House home.