Betty Ford Center pioneer who nurtured historic connection with Hazelden passes away

Joseph R. Cruse played an instrumental role in former First Lady Betty Ford's intervention in 1978 and became the founding medical director for the Betty Ford Center four years later.
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CENTER CITY (Feb. 3, 2021) – Joseph R. Cruse, MD, who played an instrumental role in former First Lady Betty Ford's family intervention in 1978 and became the founding medical director for the Betty Ford Center four years later, has died. The OB/GYN, who often marveled at having had the opportunity to deliver 3,700 babies, passed away Jan. 26 in Colorado at age 90. He is survived by a large family including his wife and soulmate—nationally known consultant, educator and author Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse—who, along with Dr. Cruse’s bonus son Pat Egan, wrote a loving obituary.

Dr. Cruse enjoyed his last 50 years sober and made significant contributions in the areas of medicine and addiction recovery. In 1976, he co-founded the Awareness Hour, a recovery speaker series at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California. The Awareness Hour's storytelling approach to public education, inspiration and advocacy was emulated throughout the country and led to his invitation to help lead the family intervention for Mrs. Ford, who in 1978 was struggling with alcohol and prescription drug use. The intervention was a success, motivating the former First Lady to seek treatment, initiate lifelong recovery, and ultimately found the Betty Ford Center in 1982 with Dr. Cruse and American diplomat, business leader and philanthropist Leonard Firestone.

"Since the day I approached Joe to help our family 43 years ago, his influential spark has remained a bright light in my life and in the ever-evolving legacy of my mother and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation," said Susan Ford Bales, who serves on Hazelden Betty Ford's Board of Trustees and is the daughter of President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford. "He will be greatly missed and forever remembered with deep gratitude."   

Dr. Cruse's vision, skills and lifelong knack for being in the right place at the right time not only helped forge the birth of the Betty Ford Center but also its remarkable ties to the Hazelden Foundation decades before the two organizations fatefully merged—a story chronicled in a special edition of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's Together Magazine.

"Looking back, It is astounding how much Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center collaborated from the very beginning, and how integral Dr. Cruse was to connecting the two," said Hazelden Betty Ford President and CEO Mark G. Mishek.  

A few years prior to his death, Dr. Cruse donated to Hazelden Betty Ford an unpublished story he had written in 1986 called Ripples, an inspiring look at how far hope and healing can spread from one recovery carrier to the next. He asked that it be shared at an opportune time, and so it is shared here in fond memory of his legacy as a pioneering healer, innovator and advocate.

"Dr. Cruse was a champion of recovery who embraced involving the whole family in the healing process," said Jerry Moe, national director of Hazelden Betty Ford's children’s programs. "He was an inspiring mentor, teacher and friend."

Hazelden Betty Ford West Region Vice President and Betty Ford Center Administrator Christopher Yadron, PhD, added: "Dr. Cruse's positive impact will ripple through every generation of people served by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation."

About the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As the nation's leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient addiction and mental health care for adults and youth, the Foundation has treatment centers and telehealth services nationwide as well as a network of collaborators throughout health care. Through charitable support and a commitment to innovation, the Foundation is able to continually enhance care, research, programs and services, and help more people. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in its services and throughout the organization, which also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction.