Beth Ford: A dirt-poor, illegal immigrant, and pothead-turned-meth head turned into a crusader for welfare reform and recycling

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year was one (okay, two) people who changed the world, but the Person of the Year we cherish most, is one who was a changing the world even before…

Beth Ford: A dirt-poor, illegal immigrant, and pothead-turned-meth head turned into a crusader for welfare reform and recycling

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year was one (okay, two) people who changed the world, but the Person of the Year we cherish most, is one who was a changing the world even before that title was established.

Beth Ford, who became the CEO of Land O’ Lakes in 2007, could certainly not have been a sitting duck for the moment when the penultimate role in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator franchise was based on the women in her life.

Seven years before that, Ford embarked on a campaign to clean up California while working as mayor of Stockton, California.

Previously an optometrist, Beth took to the streets to make her presence felt to head-of-government Ray Rowland, “when I realised there was nothing I could do to make a real impact in my own community”.

A stay-at-home mum from the age of 24, Beth had moved out to Stockton, California, but realised a cleaner city must have better access to fresh food, wastewater systems and even toilets and shower heads.

Ford and the North County Tenants Association began by protesting at a local water district’s refusal to re-bid a proposed $40m wastewater treatment plant, which would have been built on Cattle Drive.

“I remember being in the middle of Cattle Drive one night when a man driving by in his car fired two shots at my head,” Ford recalled.

“When my bodyguards returned fire, the man’s car caught fire.

“Thinking I had been seriously injured, I entered the home of one of the officers and began screaming for help.”

Caring for five children in close quarters in a flat shared with her husband as she scoured the streets for food and other supplies was never a nice thing to do, and Ford started with the toilets and showers.

Food was also quickly found, and oral surgery provided for those who needed it, and eventually the public toilets were built.

Next to Betty Ford’s radio show, it was one of the biggest draws for local residents, and Ford gained the public’s trust to do more.

It was a perfect platform for Ford’s activism and her work in the north County Tenants Association also started a national approach to tackle housebuilding in the region.

Now, Beth Ford finds herself in the role of environmentalist again, as Land O’ Lakes attempts to tackle Europe’s growing waste problem.

In May 2010, Ford set off on her 16,000 mile, cross-country bicycle trip from downtown Los Angeles to the other side of the country in New York, with the aim of raising awareness of America’s trash problems.

Even though she got to see the red state of Arizona go through a mad period of hardcore drilling and ‘redneck proud’ politicians after the BP oil spill, Ford also witnessed fireworks from the band Phish in Manchester, England, and skydiving in Virginia.

Among her personal highlights were drinking champagne with the Dalai Lama, and getting lost in a crowded swimming pool in Kissimmee, Florida.

“I had never left the beaten track before, nor had I travelled in a traffic jam before,” Ford recalled.

In California, Ford had almost 4,000km to cover, but with the help of £22,000 from the states of Germany and Switzerland, she was able to spend her six months with her family on holiday.

And when her charity managed to raise £50,000 from campaigns in Norway, London and Virginia, she claimed she and her family would be taking the kayak holiday a month after the trip.

Unfortunately, her bike journey ended in Seattle, Washington, where she was hit by a car.

Thank you for reading my story and to all the other bums on seats at A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

See you on Saturday, November 10

MORE PEOPLE OF THE YEAR STORIES…

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