President Gerald Ford's Daughter Makes Tulsa Home

Sunday, June 21st 2009, 2:15 pm
By: News On 6

Associated Press

TULSA, OK -- A young Susan Ford first entered the limelight as first daughter of President Gerald Ford, former speaker of the House who became the 38th president in 1974 after President Richard Nixon's resignation.

Following her teenage years when she had her prom in the East Room of the White House, Susan Ford Bales became a wife, a mother and chairman of the board at the drug and alcohol treatment center that her mother, Betty Ford, founded back when substance abuse was still a stigma rather than a disease.

In 1984, Ford Bales and her mother helped launch National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"It takes up a huge amount of my time. It's not just the board meetings, it's finance committee meetings, it's communication committee meetings, it's a lot of telephonic meetings," Ford Bales said from her Tulsa home. "But it does give me a chance to see mom."

Moving to Tulsa meant downsizing from their four acres in New Mexico to a smaller home, so she has more time for what really counts: family.

She is mother to two daughters and three stepchildren. She has one granddaughter, and another grandchild on the way. Being a philanthropist, an accomplished photojournalist, a mystery writer and fan, and a shaper of her parents' legacy keeps Ford Bales, 49, thriving and busy.

She lives with her third husband, attorney Vaden Bales, a native Tulsan with family nearby. And she says she is exactly 3 1/2 hours from her door to daughter Tyne Berlanga, who lives north of Dallas in Frisco. Her other daughter, Heather Elizabeth, lives nearby in Dallas.

"Some days, I feel like I'm flying by the seat of my pants because I am truly the sandwich generation of having an elderly mother and having five children between my husband and I," Ford Bales said. "One day I'm dealing with the elderly, and the next I'm dealing with a 3-year-old and loving every minute of it."

She visits her 91-year-old mother in Palm Springs at least monthly when she returns to California for board meetings for her mother's foundation.

"My mom's doing great. She has the normal aches and pains as most 91-year-olds have."

Bales and Susan Ford married in 1989 and moved to Tulsa. In 1997, they moved to Albuquerque for 11 years before returning to Tulsa last year.

"(Tulsa) was a great place to raise my girls when they were young, and we're back because of friends and family," Ford Bales said.

The Bales first met in Topeka, Kan., when she was a photojournalist for the Capital-Journal, and he was in law school at Washburn University. They reconnected 14 years later and eventually married.

Though it has been four decades since her father was president, Ford Bales often is sought for her insight and advice on living in the White House. To Sasha and Malia: just have fun, she says.

So, how does she want her father to be remembered?

"The biggest thing was his ethics. He had unbelievable ethics," Ford Bales said. "His service to the country, it wasn't a personal service; it was truly his interest in America and service to the United States.

"He was such a decent man and a wonderful father."

Ford Bales also is grateful for how history ultimately was kind.

"I think the first step was everybody finally realized that the pardon (for Nixon) was the right decision, and that took time, and I'm glad he was alive to hear that.

"When we planned his funeral service, that was our whole point; this is what service is, this is what decency is."