Even in death, Betty Ford continues to teach us. Five years before her passing--knowing that, at age 88, the inevitable would be coming sooner rather than later--she laid out a plan for one final lesson.
She asked Cokie Roberts, longtime ABC political commentator, and NPR analyst, to speak at her funeral. The request came with instructions--something she wanted to have included in the eulogy.
Yesterday, at the funeral service in Palm Desert, California, Cokie Roberts honored that request. She divulged that what Betty Ford wanted her to talk about was friendship in government circles.
The former first lady wanted Cokie Roberts to remind everyone how it used to be in Washington--how there used to be camaraderie in Congress, even between members of different political parties--and how those friendships helped make governing possible.
In this day of deep political divide, worsened by bitterness and name-calling, this history lesson is especially appropriate. As Cokie Roberts pointed out, the message could not be more timely.
And as I listened to the eulogy, it occurred to me that the message was being delivered against a backdrop of living proof. For there in St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, for all of America to see, was evidence of what Betty Ford meant.
There, in a front pew, was 35 years of Presidential history, and civility. Republican President George W. Bush sat and conversed with first lady Michelle Obama, and former first ladies Hillary Clinton and Rosalynn Carter, all Democrats, and Nancy Reagan, a Republican.
Honoring another request made by Betty Ford, one of the eulogies was delivered by Rosalynn Carter, whose husband, the Democrat, had defeated Betty's husband, Gerald Ford, the Republican, in the Presidential election of 1976. Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Carter, despite political diffeences, worked together as advocates for the mentally ill, and became close friends.
In attendance also were the daughters of President Nixon, Tricia and Julie; and the daughters of President Johnson, Lynda and Lucie. Today, at a service for Betty Ford in Michigan, President Bill Clinton, and former first lady, Barbara Bush, whose husband lost the Presidency to Clinton in 1992, will attend together.
We can only hope that members of the current Congress heard yesterday's eulogies, and saw the living proof of Betty Ford's final lesson.