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Grand Rapids Jerry Ford One Of Us
Gerald R. Ford was one of us. He was our Congressman and champion during our formative years. He was our President during our adult stage. He remained our champion during our later lives. He may not have lived among us these past 35 years, but he was always there in our hearts, as we were in his.
We did not always refer to him as Gerald R. Ford or Mr. President. To many of us he was just "Jerry." It is one of the highest and most endearing compliments we can heap on him, and we will always retain that heritage.
Jerry was a man of outstanding character. He was crafted as much by the ethic of
Jerry was special to most of us. We each have our personal accounts of how he impacted our lives, and how he lifted
In the 180-year history of
But Jerry was our President. He was our leader. He brought the world to our community. And he always remained one of us.
My first recollection of Jerry was when I was 5 years old. My father was working for the Dutch government, and in that capacity he met many government officials, including newly elected Congressman Gerald R. Ford.
My parents often entertained at home. Among the guests was Jerry Ford. Mom would spend hours orchestrating the special Dutch buffet feast known as rijstafel (rice table). Jerry loved the various entrees, and always complimented Mom. He managed to get in a few hellos to us kids, as well. Back then we called the Fords Oom Jerry (Uncle Jerry) and Tante Betty (Aunt Betty). As "foreign kids," we referred to nearly every adult that came into our lives more than once as uncle or aunt.
A few years later, my parents decided they would like to stay in
This earned Jerry the undying loyalty of my parents, and eventually of all their children, as well. In junior high and high school, my sister and I were the twin terrors of Union High in terms of supporting Jerry Ford and any candidates he supported. In those years, we even set up candidate forums at
During those early years, the words "Jerry Ford" and "congressman" were synonymous. Later when he rose to the vice-presidency in 1973, and then to the presidency in August 1974, the change was hard to get used to, especially the circumstances under which he ascended to those offices. The times were tumultuous.
While most reporters refer to the line in Jerry's inaugural address, "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over …" as being significant, I have other favorite passages that showcase his humility, candor and common sense approach to life.
"I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots. So I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers."
"I am indebted to no man and only to one woman."
"… to do what is right as God gives me to see the right, and to do the very best I can for
"God helping me, I will not let you down."
And Jerry, you never let us down.
I also remember that cold, rainy day in November 1976 when Jerry returned to
Is my personal account special? Certainly to me, but there are thousands of equally personal stories about the man from Grand Rapids who went out of his way to help constituents, friends, even total strangers without regard to whether they were Democrats or Republicans. He was steady; he was comfortable. We always knew where he stood. We could always count on him.
Historians will ultimately determine Jerry's place in the pantheon of our national leaders and heroes. To Grand Rapidians, he will always be our hero.
It is fitting that his final resting place will be
Jerry, we will truly miss you. You were always one of us, and as one of us you will always remain.
Thank you for everything. Rest in peace.