Gerald Ford, 38th president of the United States, died December 26, 2006, at 93. Although the only president never elected to national office, Ford guided the nation through the tumultuous period of 1974 to 1976, struggling to restore the nation's confidence in a government tarnished by the Watergate scandal and a troubled economy.
Although he provoked widespread anger for pardoning former President
Nixon for any wrongdoing in the cover-up that followed Watergate,
Ford was warmly remembered as a man of integrity who helped start
national healing in the wake of Vietnam and the near-impeachment
Ford was born Leslie Lynch King Jr. on July 14, 1913, in Omaha,
Neb. His parents separated two weeks after his birth, and his
mother Dorothy moved him to Grand Rapids, Mich., to live with
her parents. Two years after her divorce, Dorothy married Gerald
Rudolph Ford, a Grand Rapids paint salesman. The Fords began calling
Leslie Gerald R. Ford Jr., although his name was not legally changed
until December 1935.
grew up in a close-knit family with three younger half-brothers.
After graduating from South High School, he attended the University
of Michigan at Ann Arbor, majoring in economics and political
science. He played on the university's football team and was voted
most valuable player in 1934.
The NFL's Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers both offered Ford
contracts after graduation, but instead, he entered Yale University
to study law. To finance his studies, he signed on as the boxing
team coach and as an assistant varsity football coach.
After graduating from Yale Law in 1941, Ford returned to Grand
Rapids to open a law firm with a friend from the University of
Michigan, Philip Buchen. In April 1942 he joined the U.S. Naval
Reserve as an ensign, becoming a physical fitness instructor at
a pre-flight school in Chapel Hill, N.C. In the spring of 1943
he began service on the light aircraft carrier USS Monterrey.
When the war was over, Ford returned to Grand Rapids and became
a partner in the locally prestigious law firm of Butterfield,
Keeny and Amberg.
Well known throughout the community, Ford decided to challenge
isolationist incumbent Bartel Jonkman for the Republican nomination
for the U.S. House of Representatives of 1948. Ford was elected
to Congress on Nov. 2, 1948, winning 61 percent of the vote in
the general election.
During the campaign, Gerald Ford married Elizabeth Ann Bloomer
Warren, a department store fashion consultant and former model.
The couple went on to have four children -- Michael, John, Steven
Serving in the House from Jan. 3, 1949, to Dec. 6, 1973, Ford
was reelected 12 times, each time with more than 60 percent of
the vote. He became a member of the House Appropriations Committee
in 1951 and the ranking minority member on the Defense Appropriations
Subcommittee in 1961.
During his years in Congress, Ford opposed federal aid to education
and housing, increases in the minimum wage, Medicare and anti-pollution
bills. He described himself as a "moderate in domestic affairs,
an internationalist in foreign affairs and a conservative in fiscal
As his reputation as a legislator grew, Ford declined offers
to run for both the Senate and the Michigan governorship; he instead
focused on becoming speaker of the House. Despite his decision
to stay in the House, his role in delicate, yet critical matters
continued to grow. In 1963 President Johnson appointed Ford to
the Warren Commission investigating President Kennedy's assassination.
Two years later, Ford was elected House minority leader and held
the position for eight years. But the Republicans had entered
a period starting in 1954 in which they would not be able to capture
a majority in the U.S. House (they would not until 1994), meaning
although he headed his party in the lower house of Congress, he
would never be Speaker. But in the tumultuous politics of the
Nixon administration, the way would soon be clear along a path
the Michigan Congressman never envisioned. When Spiro Agnew resigned
as vice president in late 1973 after pleading no contest to a
charge of income tax evasion, President Richard Nixon reached
out to Ford to join him as vice president. Ford accepted his role
and, after being confirmed by the Senate 92-3, was sworn in on
Dec. 6, 1973.
the Watergate scandal broke, Nixon resigned as president and Ford
was inaugurated on Aug. 9, 1974. He said, "Our long national
nightmare is over. Our constitution works." It was an historic
hour, Ford said, "that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts."
Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller as vice president and he was
confirmed on Dec. 19, 1974.
Before any formal criminal charges were filed against Richard
Nixon, President Ford granted him a pardon, believing that protracted
impeachment proceedings would keep the United States mired in
the Watergate aftermath. The public reacted negatively to the
president's decision. While the decision to pardon Richard Nixon
may have cost Ford the 1976 election, he maintained he had made
the best decision for the country, public opinion notwithstanding.
"As I rejected amnesty, so I reject revenge. I ask all Americans
who ever asked for goodness and mercy in their lives, who ever
sought forgiveness for their trespasses, to join in rehabilitating
all the casualties of the tragic conflict of the past," the
president said at the time.
Besides inheriting fallout from the Watergate scandal, Ford also
took on an administration plagued by the divisive Vietnam War,
rising inflation and potential energy shortages. His domestic
goal was to curb inflation and stimulate the economy through modest
tax and spending cuts, deregulating industries and controlling
energy prices to stimulate production.
"The American wage earner and the American housewife are
a lot better economists than most economists care to admit,"
Ford told a joint session of Congress in August 1974. "They
know that a government big enough to give you everything you want
is a government big enough to take from you everything you have."
In foreign policy, President Ford and Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger continued their policy of détente with the Soviet
Union and shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East. U.S.-Soviet relations
were marked by ongoing arms negotiations, the Helsinki agreements
on human rights principles and East European national boundaries,
trade negotiations and the symbolic Apollo-Soyuz joint manned
With the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, Congress and the president
incessantly wrangled over presidential war powers, oversight of
the CIA and covert operations, military aid appropriations and
military personnel stationing.
On two separate trips to California in September 1975, there
were two attempts on the president's life. The assailants were
both women: Lynette Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore.
During the 1976 campaign, Ford fought off a strong challenge
from Ronald Reagan and won the Republican nomination. Choosing
Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas as his running mate, he narrowed Democrat
Jimmy Carter's large lead, but ultimately lost the election.
leaving the White House in January 1977, President Ford lectured
at 179 colleges and universities, covering issues such as congressional/White
House relations, federal budget policies and domestic and foreign
The Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the Gerald
R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich., were both dedicated in
1971. Since then, conferences at both sites have dealt with such
subjects as Congress, the presidency and foreign policy, Soviet-American
relations, German reunification, the Atlantic Alliance, the future
of American foreign policy, national security, humor and the presidency
and the role of first ladies.
In August 1999, Ford received the Medal of Freedom and in October
of that year both President and Mrs. Ford were awarded the Congressional
Gold Medal for dedicated public service and outstanding humanitarian
contributions. Ford has served on the board of directors of several
U.S. corporations and contributed both time and money to charities
such as the Boy Scouts of America and the Betty Ford Center for
President Ford is survived by his wife Betty and his four children.