Betty Ford: A Pioneer Who Redefined the Role of First Lady

Ford was a pioneer who redefined the role of first lady.

More than 34 years ago, Betty Ford left the White House, checked into rehab and later announced to the world she was struggling with alcohol dependence.

"Today I am a very grateful recovering alcoholic and I know firsthand that treatment does work," she said afterwards.

An outspoken advocate for women's health, in 1982 Ford founded and raised money for the non-profit addiction treatment clinic in the California desert that now bears her name. The center's goal: treatment without shame.

"Somehow, it was all right for men to kind of kick back and sow their wild oats," the former first lady said. "But as far as women were concerned, it was a real stigma."

Ford helped erase the stigma associated with people suffering from alcohol dependency, which became perhaps her greatest legacy. Since then the clinic has treated more than 90,000 patients, including celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Billy Joel, Elizabeth Taylor and Kelsey Grammer.

"It takes a sense of community and love and sense of faith to actually overcome this disease," Grammer said.

"Shame and stigma were significantly reduced and the Betty Ford Center has become a model for effective treatment," Dr. Scott Basinger, associate dean at Baylor College of Medicine, told ABC News.

The Betty Ford Center launched the medical careers of hundreds of men and woman who now specialize in addiction.

"Her dignity and national prominence, along with the fact that she went to treatment, were helpful in re-directing physicians to the use of 12-step 'Minnesota Model' treatment centers like the BFC," Basinger said. "However, we still have a long way to go in accepting addiction as a medical disease and in training our healthcare professionals to screen and refer. We are, I believe, headed in the right direction."

Ford will be remembered as a pioneer who redefined the role of first lady.

"Betty Ford was one of the first public figures to put a face on alcoholism as a disease and she raised awareness of the need for treatment and helped society understand recovery as a lifelong process," Dessa Bergen-Cico, assistant professor of Public Health and Addiction Studies at Syracuse University, told ABC News.