Ger­ald Ford dies at 93; 38th pres­i­dent par­doned Nixon

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jen­nifer Harper

Ger­ald R. Ford, the na­tion’s 38th pres­i­dent, has died. He was 93. “My fam­ily joins me in shar­ing the dif­fi­cult news that Ger­ald Ford, ourbeloved­hus­band,fa­ther,grand­fa­ther and great grand­fa­ther has passed away at 93 years of age,” Betty Ford said in a brief state­ment is­sued from her hus­band’s of­fice in Ran­cho Mi­rage, Calif., on Dec. 26. “His life was filled with love of God, his fam­ily and his coun­try.”

Th­es­tate­ment­nei­ther­said­where Mr. Ford died nor gave the cause of death. Mr. Ford, the long­est-liv­ing pres­i­dent, had bat­tled pneu­mo­nia and heart dis­ease in re­cent years.

Mr. Ford was the first man to be­comepres­i­den­twith­outev­er­hav­ing been elected pres­i­dent or vice pres­i­dent. With a rep­u­ta­tion as a big­hearted, hon­est man, he was strong enough to shore up Amer­ica in the time of Water­gate-era un­cer­tainty and smart enough to re­store its val­ues and di­rec­tion with a sure and steady hand.

In a state­ment on Dec. 27, Pres­i­dent Bush called Mr. Ford “a great Amer­i­can who gave many years of ded­i­cated ser­vice to our coun­try,” adding that Mr. Ford “helped heal our land and re­store pub­lic con­fi­dence in the Pres­i­dency.”

Mr.Ford­was­ap­point­ed­vi­cepres­i­dent and took of­fice in De­cem­ber 1973 af­ter res­ig­na­tion of Vice Pres­i­dent Spiro Agnew. He as­cended to the pres­i­dency when Pres­i­dent Nixon re­signed on Aug. 9, 1974, to avoid im­mi­nent im­peach­ment and re­moval from of­fice over the coverup of the Water­gate bur­glary.

That piv­otal mo­ment was one of poignant ci­vil­ity. As Mr. Nixon pre­pared to step aboard a he­li­copter and leave the White House for the last time, he reached out and took Mr. Ford’s large hand in his own.

“Good­bye, Mr. Pres­i­dent,” Mr. Nixon said qui­etly.

“Good­bye, Mr. Pres­i­dent,” Mr. Ford replied.

As the chop­per cir­cled over­head, the new leader turned to his wife Betty and told her, “We can do it. We’re ready.”

“I as­sume the pres­i­dency un­der ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances,” Mr. Ford­toldthen­ationat12:03p.m.that sum­mer day. He said he hoped to make a com­pact with his coun­try­men, he said.

“Not an in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, not a firesidechat,no­ta­cam­paign­speech, just a lit­tle straight talk among friends,”Mr.Ford­said.“AndIin­tend it to be the first of many.”

“My fel­low Amer­i­cans, our long na­tional night­mare is over,” he said.

A Water­gate-mired Mr. Nixon hoped that ap­point­ing Mr. Ford as vi­cepres­i­dent­would­p­re­serveparty unity and add the sta­bil­ity of a man with a solid rep­u­ta­tion. He was sworn in as the first vice pres­i­dent to be ap­pointed un­der the va­cancy pro­vi­sions of the 25th Amend­ment.

Mr. Nixon re­signed from of­fice less than nine months later, leav­ing Mr. Ford with the bur­dens of of­fice.

“Ia­ma­cutelyawarethaty­ouhave not elected me as your pres­i­dent by your bal­lots, and so I ask you to con­fir­m­measy­our­pres­i­den­twith­y­our prayers,” he told the coun­try.

He­wasal­soleft­with­ad­if­fi­cultpo- lit­i­cal de­ci­sion — should he par­don Mr. Nixon? Mr. Ford prayed with wife Betty for guid­ance and con­sulted with his clos­est al­lies and weighed the eq­ui­ties. He de­cided that a par­don of Mr. Nixon would helphealthe­coun­tryand­setitright.

“My con­science tells me it is my duty not merely to pro­claim do­mes­tic tran­quil­ity but to use ev­ery means I have to en­sure it,” Mr. Ford told the Amer­i­can pub­lic on Sept. 8, 1974, be­fore read­ing the procla­ma­tion be­fore TV cam­eras in the Oval Of­ficethat­grant­edMr.Nixon“afull free and ab­so­lute par­don.”

His hon­ey­moon with both press and pub­lic was quickly over. Some ac­cused him of fa­voritism — par­don­ing Mr. Nixon while his un­der­lings went off to jail. Even his per­sonal press sec­re­tary re­signed.

Mr. Ford stuck by his guns, and fired back that for the for­mer pres­i­dent, the dis­grace of res­ig­na­tion was “equiv­a­lent to serv­ing a jail term.”

He paid the po­lit­i­cal price two years later in 1976, nar­rowly los­ing his re-elec­tion bid to Jimmy Carter byabout1.7mil­lion­vote­san­da297240­marginintheElec­toralCol­lege.

Born Les­lie Lynch King Jr. in Omaha, Neb., he was re­named Ger­ald Ru­dolph Ford, Jr. as a tod­dler af­ter his par­ents di­vorced and his mother re­mar­ried. Step-fa­ther Ger­ald Sr. re­mained a bul­wark of sup­port and kind­ness through his child­hood, and even­tu­ally in­flu­enced a young Mr. Ford to run for Repub­li­can of­fice.

Cir­cum­stances were mod­est but the fam­ily was close. Along with his three step-brothers, lit­tle Jerry du­ti­fully did his chores; he could put a mean spi­ral on a foot­ball and learned early that ev­ery­one — even his en­e­mies — had a good side.

“It was a phi­los­o­phy,” he once said, “that has sus­tained me ever since.”

By high school, a tall and mus­cu­lar Jerry turned into the all-Amer­i­can boy. He was a scholar, a state cham­pion foot­ball player, an Ea­gle Scout. He en­tered the Univer­sity of Michi­gan in 1931, be­came the Wolver­ines’ cen­ter and was voted the team’s most valu­able player be­fore­grad­u­atin­gin1935.His­num­ber “48” has since been re­tired by the univer­sity.

Both the Detroit Li­ons and the Green Bay Pack­ers quickly of­fered him a spot. But some­thing had changed in Jerry Ford within the rig­ors of academia. He pined to be­come a lawyer, to study jus­tice. About the only way he could af­ford to con­tinue his ed­u­ca­tion was to go work for a univer­sity. Since he was “agood­kid­whoworked­hard,”here­called, Yale Univer­sity hired him as a foot­ball coach.

He coached a team that in­cluded fu­ture sen­a­tors Robert Taft and William Prox­mire. He took law cour­ses along with Cyrus Vance, Pot­ter Ste­wart and Sar­gent Shriver, and­man­aged­tore­main­inthetop25 per­centofhis­clas­sand­se­tu­panew law prac­tice back in Michi­gan.

WorldWarIIin­ter­ruptedandMr. Ford joined the Navy in 1942 and served on­board the air­craft car­rier USS Mon­terey. On his post­war re­turn to Grand Rapids, Ger­ald Ford Sr. — then the Repub­li­can county chair­man — per­suaded his step­son to en­ter pol­i­tics — and to find a wife at the age of 35.

By 1948, he ac­com­plished both. Thanks to in­sis­tent friends, he be­gan to date Betty War­ren, a fash­ion buyer who was fresh from a di­vorce. Mr. Ford de­cided to run for Congress against long­time in­cum­bent Bar­tel Jonkman. He showed up at his wed­ding to Betty that Oc­to­ber with mud on his shoes, straight from a Repub­li­can rally. The new­ly­weds spent their hon­ey­moon cam­paign­ing.

Mr.Ford­won­the­elec­tion,andthe nex­t12af­terthat,eachtimewin­ning 60per­centofthevote.Hede­vel­oped a friend­ship with an­other young law­maker over the years: Richard M.Nixon.Mr.Ford­joinedtheHouse Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee in 1951 and in decade, be­came rank­ing mi­nor­ity mem­ber of its de­fense sub­com­mit­tee.

Even as the pol­i­tics grew more lethal, Mr. Ford re­mained, as he once put it, “dis­gust­ingly sane” and prac­ti­cal. In 1963, he was ap­pointed toserveon­theWar­renCom­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate the as­sas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Kennedy and wrote a book about his ex­pe­ri­ences.

Mr. Ford’s true de­sire, though, wasto­be­come­s­peakeroftheHouse. Again,hechal­lengeda­nen­trenched in­cum­bent and won the po­si­tion of mi­nor­ity leader of the House from Charles Hal­leck of In­di­ana in 1965. He re­mained there eight years, mak­ing an av­er­age of 200 speeches around the coun­try an­nu­ally.

Mr. Ford crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent John­son’s Viet­nam pol­icy from the House­floor.“Wha­tis­espe­cial­ly­dis­hon­est is se­cretly to for­bid strate­gic ac­tion and pub­licly por­tray it as an hon­est­try,”he­said.Mr.Ford­fa­vored con­ser­va­tive al­ter­na­tives to so­cial wel­fare pro­grams, and sup­ported Mr. Nixon in his elec­tion bids of 1968 and 1972.

But Mr. Ford was also a re­al­ist. The Democrats re­mained in firm con­trol of the House at the time; Mr. Ford knew his chances of be­com­ing speaker were slim. In 1973, he an­nounced that he would run for re-elec­tion once more, then re­tire in three years. But the Agnew res­ig­na­tion and the se­ries of events that led him to the pres­i­dency in­ter­vened.

“Per­sonal fac­tors en­ter into such a de­ci­sion,” Mr. Nixon re­called for a Ford bi­og­ra­pher in 1991. “I knew [sev­er­al­pos­si­ble­con­gress­men]per­son­ally and had great re­spect for each one of then, but I had known Jerry Ford longer and bet­ter than any of the rest.”

Af­ter Mr. Nixon’s res­ig­na­tion, Mr. Ford went to work as pres­i­dent, ap­point­ing Nelson Rock­e­feller, the for­mer gov­er­nor of New York, as his vice pres­i­dent, and hoped to solve such deep-seated prob­lems as the di­vi­sive war in South­east Asia, ris­ing in­fla­tion, en­ergy short­ages and a tru­cu­lent Congress.

Mr.Ford­me­thod­i­callyad­dressed each one. His phi­los­o­phy, he said, was that “a gov­ern­ment big enough to give us ev­ery­thing is a gov­ern­ment big enough to take from us ev­ery­thing we have.”

In 1974, he rewrote cam­paign fi­nance laws, of­fered cle­mency for draft evaders and de­sert­ers and ex­tended the Vot­ing Rights Act to Span­ish-speak­ing peo­ple.

Mr. Ford opened an anti-in­fla­tion cam­paign;heused­hisve­topower55 times and pro­posed mod­est tax and spend­ing cuts to con­tain un­em­ploy­men­tand­in­fla­tion.In­fla­tion­dropped from 12.2 per­cent to 4.6 per­cent in twoyears.He­signedleg­is­la­tion­cre­at­ingnewen­er­gya­gen­ciesand­abill to de­con­trol do­mes­tic oil prices.

He kept at it, even as per­sonal tra­vails mounted. His wife Betty was di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer in 1974; Mr. Ford sur­vived two as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts in 1975.

He was philo­soph­i­cal and good na­tured about reg­u­lar press re­ports that ex­am­ined his oc­ca­sional gaffes in ex­cru­ci­at­ing de­tail. Af­ter los­ing his 1976 re-elec­tion bid, Mr. Ford re­tired and looked back only mo­men­tar­ily.

“What if I hadn’t par­doned Nixon?” he once re­called. “There were other ‘what ifs,’ but I re­al­ized early on that dwelling on them would be a point­less ex­er­cise.”

He re­turned with Betty to Cal­i­for­nia and a private life, writ­ing his mem­oirs, “A Time to Heal” and a book of pres­i­den­tial hu­mor. He main­tained a rig­or­ous pub­lic speak­ing sched­ule, served on the board of sev­eral cor­po­ra­tions and briefly flirted with the idea of run­ning as vice pres­i­dent for Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s 1980 cam­paign.

In­his­last­pub­l­i­cap­pear­ance­dur­ing the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion in Au­gust, Mr. Ford told CNN, “Betty and I are hav­ing a mag­nif­i­cent life, 52 years of mar­ried life, and four great chil­dren, 15 grand­chil­dren. Ev­ery­thing is break­ing just right.”

Mr.FordleaveshiswifeEl­iz­a­beth BloomerWar­renFor­dand­fourchil­dren, Michael Ger­ald, John Gard­ner, Steven Meigs and Susan El­iz­a­beth;and­nu­mer­ous­grand­chil­dren.

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

As­so­ci­ated Press

With Vice Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford seated be­hind him, Pres­i­dent Nixon de­liv­ered a State of the Union ad­dress be­fore a joint ses­sion of Congress in 1974. Less than eight months later, Mr. Nixon re­signed in dis­grace, and Mr. Ford as­cended to the Oval Of­fice.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.