The First Lady: Was Betty Ford’s Best Friend Nancy Howe Based on a Real Person?

Is Betty Ford’s Friend Nancy Howe Based on a Real Person
Nancy Howe is played by Judy Greer

Was Betty Ford’s Best Friend Nancy Howe in ‘The First Lady’ Based on a Real Person? Lets check out the truth. ‘The First Lady‘ narrates the lives of three American first women and the years leading up to their tenure in the White House. The story follows Michelle Obama (Viola Davis), Betty Ford (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson) as they face obstacles and triumphs while carving out their own personal legacies and refusing to be overshadowed by their husbands.

Betty Ford’s ascension to the White House comes amid the turmoil surrounding Richard Nixon’s departure. Betty discovers an unexpected advocate and companion in the White House named Nancy Howe, while she is forced to adhere to the traditional position of the first lady.

We decided to do some research on Nancy Howe because many of the characters in ‘The First Lady’ are based on real individuals.

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How Did Betty Ford Meet Nancy Howe
First Lady Betty Ford and her secretary, Nancy Howe, dress a skeleton for Halloween in the President’s chair in his private study on the second floor of the White House. October 30, 1974.

Is Nancy Howe, Betty Ford’s Friend, Based on a Real Person?

Yes, Judy Greer’s character Nancy Howe is based on a real person. The real Nancy Howe worked as Betty Ford’s personal assistant before becoming First Lady, and the two were described as inseparable. Nancy was also acknowledged with assisting Betty in avoiding the antiquated White House conventions that she was required to follow as the first lady throughout her fight with breast cancer.

Nancy McDonald was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1930, and started working for Betty Ford when Gerald Ford was still Vice President. Between 1974 and 1975, Nancy worked as Betty Ford’s personal assistant after he became president. Nancy was occasionally referred to as the first lady’s “special helper” on the show.

She was the closest to Betty Ford of the almost 30 East Wing staff members responsible for her support at the time. Nancy’s husband, James W. Howe, died in April 1975 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to investigators. This came after an investigation into the Howes’ trip to the Dominican Republic, where they were hosted by Tongsun Park, a South Korean businessman. Many issues arose, as well as ethical and conflict-of-interest concerns.

James had assumed full responsibility for the trip before his death and requested that his wife not be held responsible for any indiscretions. James and Nancy Howe had a 22-year-old daughter called Lise Courtney at the time of his death. Following the accident, Nancy and her family received public condolences from the Ford presidential family.

She was still working as Betty’s personal assistant at the time. Nancy departed the White House soon after, in May 1975, and stopped working for Betty Ford. Nancy C. Chirdon, according to documents, took her place.

What Brought Betty Ford and Nancy Howe Together?

U.S. National Archives photo showing First Lady Betty Ford and her secretary Nancy Howe dressing up as a skeleton for Halloween Nancy was the head of guidebook sales for the White House Historical Association before joining Betty Ford’s team. Nancy appears to be working in the White House gift store in the series, which matches this description.

Betty and Nancy are thought to have met when the latter was working for the White House Historical Association. Betty Ford hired Nancy shortly after Gerald Ford was nominated for Vice President. Nancy had been assisting Betty Ford even before she was employed, according to some reports, and had been working for her for several weeks.

Nancy Howe is played by Judy Greer
Nancy Howe is played by Judy Greer.

Who Played Nancy Howe in the ‘The First Lady’

Nancy Howe is played by Judy Greer. According to the Ford Library Museum, Nancy resigned from the White House in May 1975. Due to schedule issues, the actress who was meant to play Nancy in The First Lady had to drop out as well. According to The Wrap, actress Pamela Adlon was unable to play Nancy due to schedule problems in early 2021. Judy Greer was brought in to take her position.

Judy’s acting resume is extensive. She’s been in films such as 13 Going on 30, Jurassic World, Halloween, Halloween Kills, and more. Judy also appears in the FX comedy Archer as Cheryl, a humorous character. In the smash Marvel movie Ant-Man, she also played Paul Rudd’s ex-wife. Her portrayal as DA Leah Askey in The Thing About Pam was another of her most recent roles.

Judy will reprise her role as Nancy in The First Lady Season 1, Episode 6, “See Saw,” according to Judy’s IMDb page. Showtime’s The First Lady premieres new episodes every Sunday at 9 p.m. EST.

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