San Diegan shares memories of President and Mrs. Ford - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

San Diegan shares memories of President and Mrs. Ford

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    Betty Ford remembered at bipartisan memorial

    Tuesday, July 12 2011 4:46 PM EDT2011-07-12 20:46:32 GMT
    First ladies, past and present, and others who called the White House home remembered Betty Ford on Tuesday. 
    First ladies, past and present, and others who called the White House home remembered Betty Ford on Tuesday, not just for her decades-long work against substance abuse but for contributing to a political era when friendship among lawmakers helped them govern. 

SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - A local woman who spent years working side by side with Betty Ford is also celebrating her life.

Linda Van Kessler says it was her lifelong dream to work in the White House, a goal she accomplished before the age of 20.

"She was so sweet and kind," Linda said.

Linda was 19 years old when she landed a job at the White House with President Ford. Working for the Fords for years, Linda watched the highs and lows of Betty Ford's self-medication.

"She had a very active case of arthritis and most people didn't know that," Linda said.

When President Ford lost the election, Linda was asked to move from the White House to Rancho Mirage to be Ford's director of scheduling and press, and that's where Linda saw firsthand Betty Ford trying to escape her pain.

"So it wasn't like she was a raging drug addict or alcoholic, but her combination of taking the pills and then having one or two martinis, which was their custom for dinner, the combination started to catch up with her," Linda said.

With President Ford traveling, the addiction worsened.

"The very saddest thing one day was that she was out greeting people and she turned to her Secret Service agent and said to him hello, nice to meet you," Linda said.

That agent was a man Betty Ford had known for years, and it was obvious to the staff she needed help.

"We all went to the president and spoke to him about it," Linda said.

When the decision was made for Betty Ford to go into rehab, it was Linda who was chosen to make the announcement to the press.

"It was a very daunting experience that they would entrust me with something so private to them," she said.

But Linda says if the Fords trusted you, you were treated like family.

Through recovery, Betty Ford found happiness. Not only did she beat her addiction, she became a role model for millions.

"She came out strong, she came out happy," Linda said. "I was just so proud of her and she is just such a great lady. They just don't make them like that anymore."

Linda Van Kessler is the founder of Passion for Kids, the nonprofit group that has supported the cause of Baby Izaiah.

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