It was, for both, a time of slight uncertainty—and regal high excitement. For President Ford, it was his first diplomatic reception as White House host. But for his daughter Susan, it was much more. Filling in for her mother, who was recuperating from breast-cancer surgery, Susan Ford was, at 17, the youngest First Lady pro tem to serve as hostess at a white-tie White House bash since “Princess Alice” Roosevelt held court during her father Teddy’s administration.
Susan proved worthy of the task. After some protocol briefings by a military aide (which her father also found instructive), Susan braved an hour-long receiving line in long white gloves she found uncomfortably hot, occasionally whispering, “Daddy, how many more? When is this going to stop?” Then she danced throughout the evening with a succession of imposingly bemedaled if not especially nimble-footed diplomats. Her favorite partner, of course, was Mr. President, and as the two of them took to the floor, the band thoughtfully played “Thank Heaven For Little Girls.”
For Susan Ford, the transition from congressman’s daughter to White House resident has been swift and not without difficulty. Her mother’s mastectomy only served to thrust one more burden upon her. The reception, she said after many hours on her feet, was “not bad, but I’d rather have mother do it.” Betty Ford is on the mend at home now, reassuming some of the official obligations. But for Susan, her life as just an ordinary 17-year-old high school student ended the day her father became President. The glass-bowl visibility of the White House has made sure of that.
A FRISKY POOCH IN THE OVAL OFFICE
When she moved into the White House with her family eight weeks ago, Susan Ford made a vow: “I’ll never throw away my blue jeans.” Sure enough, the day after she made her debut as stand-in First Lady, Susan hopped back into something more casual for a ceremony of a somewhat different nature: the presentation of an 8-month-old female golden retriever named Liberty to her father.
A joint gift from Susan and official photographer David Kennerly, Liberty proved to be a lively, photogenic White House pooch in the worthy pawprints of Fala, Him and Her, Pasha and King Timahoe. But before the presentation could be made Susan Ford had a traditional teenage chore to perform; with the help of a White House steward she coaxed Liberty into a washtub and gave her a good bath.
SUSAN’S PROM WILL BE IN THE WHITE HOUSE
As the daughter of a powerful congressman, Susan Ford has grown up unawed by Washington’s social whirl. So while the move to the White House has given her new responsibilities, Susan—the only one of the four Ford children at home—is trying to maintain a familiar schedule. Up at 7 a.m., she usually breakfasts alone before driving to the exclusive Holton-Arms school in Maryland, accompanied by the Secret Service. She is a diligent student, but good marks do not come easily, and she concentrates after school on at least three hours of homework.
In fact, one of the ground rules as stand-in First Lady is that she can act as hostess on weekends only; school nights are reserved for study. Some of her classmates find her aloof, but nonetheless, Susan has arranged to have the school prom held in the White House next spring—a thrill few are likely to turn down.
She plans to enroll in Washington’s Mount Vernon Junior College next fall. A woman, she and her parents agree, ought to be able to earn a living.
Socially, Susan maintains a relatively tight circle of friends. A few are invited over occasionally to listen to rock music amidst Susan’s two dozen potted plants in the solarium, or to screen first-run movies in the ground-floor theater. Like her father, she misses the family pool, but she has nonetheless managed to shed eight pounds in the past six months. (Until last year when she grew too tall—she is 5’8″ and weighs 135 pounds—she wore her mother’s hand-me-downs.) Her one steady boyfriend, Gardner Britt, 18, is the son of a Ford automobile dealer in Virginia.
Since she has moved into the White House, Susan has had to give up babysitting, but she continues to see her favorite clients, the Abbruzzese family of Alexandria, Va. Not long ago, 6-year-old Anne Abbruzzese was visiting the White House as an overnight guest. At one point in the evening, Anne called home to ask her slightly abashed parents if they’d like to talk to the President. Oh, no, they demurred, he must be awfully busy. “No, he’s not,” Anne said cheerfully. “He’s just sitting here.”