The Time Of His Life

December 29, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Most media outlets remembered him last week for pardoning former President Richard Nixon.

But local friends and acquaintances of the country’s 38th president remember Gerald R. Ford as a man of civility and gentle humor, two qualities he first introduced to a nationwide audience when he was sworn in as vice president in December 1973.

“I am a Ford, not a Lincoln. My addresses will never be as eloquent as Mr. Lincoln’s. But I will do my best to equal his brevity and his plain speaking.”

For 895 days, Mr. Ford held the highest office in this land, and he clearly placed the nation and its people above himself when he became president in August 1974.

“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule.”

Mr. Ford was born Leslie Lynch King Jr. on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Neb., the son of Leslie Lynch King and Dorothy Ayer Gardner King. The Kings separated two weeks later and Dorothy brought young Leslie to Grand Rapids to live with her parents.

Nearly three years later, Dorothy married Gerald R. Ford, a paint salesman, and the couple began calling Leslie Jr. Gerald R. Ford Jr. But the name change wasn’t made legal until 1935, the year Mr. Ford graduated from the University of Michigan with degrees in economics and political science. He turned down offers to play professional football to attend Yale University, where he earned his law degree in 1941.

Mr. Ford returned to Grand Rapids to practice law with his partner and future White House counsel Philip Buchen, but left the firm in 1942 to join the U.S. Naval Reserve. He was commissioned as an ensign and served aboard the USS Monterey, a light aircraft carrier, until the ship was badly damaged in a typhoon. He left the Navy as a lieutenant commander in 1946.

Just weeks after he married Betty Bloomer Warren, Mr. Ford was elected to the House of Representatives on Nov. 2, 1948, and was re-elected with over 60 percent of the vote an additional 12 times over the next 24 years. His life in national politics lasted almost 29 years. Here are some highlights of his career:

November 1963: President Lyndon Baines Johnson appointed Mr. Ford to the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

January 1965: Elected minority leader of the U.S. House.

December 1973: Confirmed as the nation’s 40th vice president, replacing Spiro Agnew who resigned after pleading no contest to a charge of income tax evasion.

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August 1974:
Sworn in as the nation’s 38th president, replacing Richard Nixon who resigned after the break-in at the Watergate Hotel and eventual cover-up of the incident.

“As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the Golden Rule to our political process and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.”

August 1974: Nominated New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller as vice president.

September 1974: Pardoned Richard Nixon for any crimes he committed or may have committed.

“My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed. My conscience tells me that only I, as president, have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book. My conscience tells me it is my duty, not merely to proclaim domestic tranquility, but to use every means that I have to ensure it.”

November 1974: Reached a tentative agreement with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on limiting the number of U.S. and Soviet nuclear delivery systems.

January 1975: Gave his first State of the Union address.

“The state of the union is not good.”

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April 1975:
Ordered an evacuation of the last U.S. personnel stationed in Vietnam and the war officially ended.

“Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by re-fighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned.”

May 1975: Ordered a military response when Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge seized the SS Mayaguez, a merchant ship with 30 crew members. The crew was freed, but 64 U.S. military personnel were killed and 54 others were wounded in the rescue.

May 1975: Signed the Threshold Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union, which prohibited the underground testing of nuclear weapons that exceed 150 kilotons.

August 1975: Signed the Helsinki Accords, which recognized existing frontiers in Eastern Europe, including East and West Germany, in exchange for human rights, travel and information dissemination concessions from the Soviet Union.

September 1975: Survived an assassination scare by Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a follower of imprisoned cult leader Charles Manson. No shots were fired.

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September 1975:
Survived an assassination attempt by Sara Jane Moore, who tried to shoot Mr. Ford outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.

August 1976: Won the Republican nomination for re-election after beating back a stiff challenge from California Gov. Ronald Reagan.

“I have been called an unelected president, an accidental president. We may even hear that again from the other party, despite the fact that I was welcomed and endorsed by an overwhelming majority of their elected representatives in Congress who certified my fitness to our highest office. To me, the presidency and vice-presidency were not prizes to be won, but a duty to be done.”

October 1976: Debated Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, the Democratic candidate for president.

“There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.”

November 1976: Lost the presidential race to Jimmy Carter.

“We must now put the divisions of the campaign behind us and unite the country once again. I congratulate you on your victory. You have my complete and wholehearted support. May God bless you and your family.”

January 1977: Delivered final State of the Union address.

“The Constitution is the bedrock of all our freedoms. Guard and cherish it, keep honor and order in your own house, and the republic will endure.”

Dec. 26, 2006: Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. died in his Rancho Mirage, Calif., home at approximately 6:45 p.m.

“An outstanding statesman, he wisely chose the path of healing during a deeply divisive time in our nation’s history,” said former President Jimmy Carter. “He frequently rose above politics by emphasizing the need for bipartisanship and seeking common ground on issues critical to our nation.”   

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