“He assumed power in a period of great division and turmoil. For a nation that needed healing, and for an office that needed a calm and steady hand. Gerald Ford came along when we need him most,” President Bush said during a televised statement Wednesday from his Texas ranch.
Mr. Ford, who was never elected to the presidency or vice presidency, was the longest living former president, surpassing Ronald Reagan, who died in June 2004, by more than a month.
“His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country,” his wife of 58 years Betty said in a statement.
The cause of death has not been released, but he had experienced some medical problems recently. He was treated for pneumonia in January and had an angioplasty and pacemaker implant in August.
Funeral plans include a viewing at a church near Ford’s California home, then at the U.S. Capitol and at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Mr. Ford, a Michigan Republican, was elected to Congress 13 times before becoming the first appointed vice president in 1973 after Spiro Agnew left amid a bribery scandal. Former President Nixon chose his political ally, the straightforward Mr. Ford, for the post.
After President Nixon resigned in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal, Mr. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president.
“My fellow Americans,” Mr. Ford said after taking office, “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.”
A month later he pardoned Mr. Nixon for the Watergate affair, evoking an outcry and dooming his presidential run in 1976. Later, his action generally was regarded as courageous and helped the nation move on.
The Vietnam War ended in defeat for the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government during Ford’s presidency with the fall of Saigon in April 1975. Ford said in a speech, “Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned.”
Mr. Ford held the White House for about 2-and-a-half years during which time two women tried separately to kill him.
In general, though, the transition to Ford’s leadership was regarded as one of the most welcomed in the history of the democratic process.
“His life-long dedication to helping others touched the lives of countless people,” former President Carter said Wednesday. “He frequently rose above politics by emphasizing the need for bipartisanship and seeking common ground on issues critical to our nation.”
Mr. Ford is survived by his wife Betty, four children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.