Founder's Death Triggers New Betty Ford Center Turf-War

By Will Godfrey 08/15/11

An ongoing clash of ideas leaves plenty of blood on Betty Ford's boardroom floor.

Hard to follow: Daughter and mother
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Rival factions are fighting a bitter battle over the future of the Betty Ford Center, just over a month after the death of its founder, reports USA Today—while Ford family friends and donors pull some of the $38 million-a-year facility's funding. Betty Ford, who passed away on July 8, wanted her daughter, Susan Ford Bales, to succeed her as chairwoman, writing: "...requests made by Susan should be considered as if made personally by me." But Bales was ousted from that role in a shocking coup last spring and soon resigned from the board—four of her supporters also quit since. Bales' reign was labeled "divisive" by longtime board member Jim Greenbaum. His allies doubted she had her mother's wishes at heart and claimed last week that nothing more than "usual" boardroom turnover has occurred. But benefactor Duke Phelps canceled his $150,000-a-year gift after Bales' removal and declared: "They betrayed Betty... An act of betrayal like that is cancerous." Other donors followed. Bales' backers cite the former First Lady's April 2010 letter to yet another ditched board member, Dennie Jagger: "I thought I was thick-skinned about such things... I never expected that a majority of the Betty Ford Center board would find itself so misguided." Another bone of contention is the desire of executive John Schwarzlose and others to add sex and gambling addictions to the center's repertoire, rather than focus solely on substance abuse as Betty Ford wished. Schwarzlose insisted last week that Ford "never asked me to step aside." But he was replaced in the VIP section of last month's funeral at the request of a memo Bales had received from her mother. Such infighting—along with a sketchy economy and the emergence of multi-site, multi-program competitors like Hazelden—threatens the very future of a venerable recovery institution.

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.