Susan Ford Bales speaking at Influential Women event

March 3, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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Susan Ford Bales will be returning to Grand Rapids as keynote speaker Wednesday at The 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan luncheon at the Amway Grand Plaza.

Bales, who now lives in Tulsa, Okla., is the daughter of President Gerald R. Ford and Betty Ford and is married to Vaden Bales, an attorney. She is an author and photojournalist, but her many leadership roles beyond her career activities include serving as chairman of the board of the Betty Ford Center.

She will be speaking on the role of women in leadership positions and the qualities of leadership.

Bales had to assume a non-typical leadership role at an unusually early age. During her high school years, when her father was president, Bales lived in the White House. She served as the official White House hostess following her mother’s surgery for breast cancer in 1974.

Bales noted that more women than ever are in leadership roles today because they have been virtually forced into those roles by the economy; too often today, one income isn’t enough to support a family.

She said one quality of leadership that seems to be particularly common among women is the ability to multi-task — a skill that comes from raising children. The mother of two daughters and three stepsons, Bales said she can recall times when she would be preparing a meal for the family and doing a telephone interview with the news media at the same time.

She noted, too, that there are different types of leadership roles — not just the executives in the boardroom, the elected officials and those who excel at business and the arts. Even volunteers can suddenly find themselves in leadership roles.

“It takes a lot of courage to be a leader. I’m a better Indian than I am a chief,” she quipped.

Following her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis, Bales was moved by her candor and courage in speaking publicly about it and about how all women should become more aware of the threat it poses and take steps to safeguard their health.

In 1984, the mother and daughter helped launch National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Bales served as national spokesperson for Breast Cancer Awareness. For many years, Mrs. Ford and her daughter emphasized the importance of early detection in their countless speeches around the world to women’s groups and at health care forums.

With the founding of the Betty Ford Center in 1982 in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Bales worked with her mother on projects there focused on the impact of addiction on the family. She is particularly active with several programs including medical student training, the center’s unique children’s program, and special programs for women with addictive disease. Bales was elected to the center’s board of directors in 1992 and succeeded her mother as chairman of the board from 2005-2010.

She currently serves on the advisory board of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health, the executive board of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens Foundation, and the board of directors of the Bosque School in New Mexico.

Bales is a trustee of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation and serves as co-chair of its Programs Committee. In addition to her many other activities, Bales is the official Ship's Sponsor for the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier named after her father: the USS Gerald R. Ford.

Bales attended Mount Vernon College, where she studied photojournalism. She has worked as a photojournalist for the Associated Press, Newsweek, Money Magazine, Ladies Home Journal, the Topeka Capital-Journal and the Omaha Sun. She is also the author of two novels set in the White House.

“It looks like an interesting group of people who are getting the awards,” she told the Business Journal. “The names I have seen are pretty impressive.”

“It’s always good to get home and see Grand Rapids,” she added.

But she obviously remembers the region well, and its March weather. “Guarantee me some sunshine,” joked Bales.

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