Ford, Gerald R. 1913-2006
Ford, Gerald R. 1913-2006
(Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr.)
OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born July 14, 1913, in Omaha, NE; died December 26, 2006, in Rancho Mirage, CA. Politician and author. Ford was the thirty-eighth president of the United States who is often remembered for his efforts in healing the nation’s wounds after President Nixon’s resignation. Born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., Ford was two years old when his birth parents divorced. His mother remarried, and her son was named after his stepfather. It was not until he was seventeen that Ford would meet his biological father, and it was not a pleasant experience for him; he learned that his father had not paid the court-ordered alimony and child support all those years he was growing up. On the other hand, Ford had huge respect and admiration for his stepfather, who was a paint salesman but, more importantly, a kind and honorable man. His mother and stepfather instilled a strong work ethic in Ford, who came to believe that hard work would bring its due rewards. Attending the University of Michigan, he was a football and boxing coach and played for the Wolverines as the star center of the football team. He was named most valuable player in his senior year. The Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers both offered to put Ford on their teams, but Ford decided he was more interested in pursuing the law. He graduated from the Yale Law School in 1941 and was admitted to the Michigan Bar that year. Establishing a law practice in his home town of Grand Rapids, he joined the navy the next year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Because of his education and athletic background, the navy at first tried to keep him stateside as a physical trainer. Ford, however, had other ideas. He applied for front-line duty for over a year before finally being transferred to the aircraft carrier Monterey. The future president saw action in the Pacific theater, including at the battles at Wake Island and in the Philippines, and was awarded ten battle stars. Returning home in 1946, he joined the law firm Butterfield, Kenney & Amberg, but his war experiences had changed him. He began to have an interest in world and national politics. Ford ran for the U.S. House of Representatives and was a surprise winner in the 1948 elections. It would be the first of a string of political victories that saw Ford maintain his seat for two dozen years. A Republican, he rose to the post of minority leader in the Democrat-controlled Congress. Ford long aspired to win the post of speaker of the House, but because the Republicans remained a minority party during his career the job eluded him. Instead, he satisfied himself with work on the Appropriations Committee and in leading his party in the House. He developed a reputation as a loyal conservative and supporter of presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, and his friendly personality won him many political allies. Some critics would later argue that Ford was not a very effective legislator, having never written a major bill on his own; Ford, however, responded that he was far too busy on the Appropriations Committee to author legislation. It was because he was not a controversial figure in the Republican Party that many speculated Ford became President Richard Nixon’s choice for replacing the indicted Spiro Agnew, who had been found guilty of tax evasion. Ford, realizing he would not win the speaker of the House seat, thought the vice presidency would be a good way to end his political career, and so he accepted the offer. Taking the office in 1973, Ford was the first vice president to fill the post on the U.S. Constitution’s Twenty-fifth Amendment, which allowed the president to select a vice president should the office become unexpectedly open. Ford found himself in the middle of the Watergate era in which Nixon was accused of orchestrating the break-in at Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex. Told that the president was in no way involved, Ford at first took the word of Nixon and his associates and defended the president. As evidence mounted against Nixon, however, Ford finally publicly declared on August 6, 1974, that he could no longer defend the president. Two days later, Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment. It was an alarming twist of fate for Ford, who had never aspired to sit in the White House, but he found himself taking the oath of office on August 9. He was the first man to ever serve as U.S. president without being elected. Realizing this, Ford took his responsibility with utmost seriousness. Seeking to heal the nation’s wounds from the Watergate scandal, perhaps the most memorable action he took was to pardon the disgraced Richard Nixon. Ford would be criticized for this for years, but in the long run he was validated by historians who saw it as the correct course of action. As Ford realized before almost anyone else, a long trial against President Nixon would only rub salt into the wounds the nation had suffered. Better to put the past behind and get back to national issues than to become distracted by court actions that could last for years, Ford reasoned. Though he only served in the office for a little over two years, the president presided over some significant developments in the country. During his administration, America finally saw the end of the Vietnam War; he began talks with Panama that would eventually turn control of the canal to the Panamanians during President Jimmy Carter’s term; and he supported the Helsinki Accords, which many experts now feel helped to bring about the demise of the Soviet Union by encouraging political resistance in Eastern Europe. Inflation began to come under control and unemployment rates fell, too, under Ford’s watch. Ford’s conservative policies often irked liberal legislators, however. The president did not believe in government handouts, which some political pundits thought counterintuitive from a man who many knew was generous to a fault on a personal level. Some were resentful of his policies, and two assassination attempts were made in 1975 on his life: one by Lynette Fromme, a follower of convicted murderer Charles Manson, and a second by another woman whose name was Sara Jane Moore. Most criticisms of how Ford ran the country proved minor, however, compared to continuing resentment over the Nixon pardon. It was this act, still fresh in the public’s mind, that was blamed for Ford’s loss of the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter. After leaving office, Ford became a successful public speaker, and he worked for the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush presidential campaigns. Finally retiring to California after suffering a stroke in 2000, the president enjoyed golf and living a quiet life. The next year, Ford was given a Profile in Courage Award; he was also the recipient of the 1999 Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, as well as the 1972 National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Award. Interestingly, the president never wrote an autobiography, though he did publish several nonfiction works and speech selections, as well as Humor and the Presidency (1987).
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES
Chicago Tribune, December 28, 2006, Section 1, pp. 6-7.
New York Times, December 28, 2006, pp. A29, A31; December 29, 2006, p. A2; January 3, 2007, p. A2.
Times (London, England), December 28, 2006, p. 58.