Gerald R. Ford 1913-2006
The honeymoon lasted a month.
On Sept. 8, 1974, Ford pardoned Nixon before the former president was charged with a crime, a decision Ford would have to defend for the rest of his life. His own press secretary resigned in protest. Ford went on television at 11 a.m. to announce his decision, saying, "Serious allegations and accusations hang like a sword over our former president's head, threatening his health as he tries to reshape his life." It was widely believed that the pardon led to Ford's narrow defeat in the 1976 presidential race against Jimmy Carter.
Ford's was the classic American story of a small-town boy who made good. He was born in Omaha on July 14, 1913, and christened Leslie L. King Jr., after his father. But his parents fought constantly and divorced when he was 2. His mother moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., where she met and married Gerald Rudolf Ford, a paint salesman for the Grand Rapids Wood Finishing Co. Ford eventually formally adopted the boy and renamed him Gerald R. Ford Jr. They had three rules for Ford and his three half-brothers: tell the truth, work hard, and come to dinner on time. In his autobiography, Ford wrote that his parents weren't very secure economically, "but emotionally both were very secure, and if I retain that characteristic today, I owe it to them."
So, apparently, does the rest of the country. Though his presidency was brief, Ford presided over difficult times: an oil shortage, inflation, and declining productivity. When Cambodian pirates seized a U.S. merchant ship, the Mayagüez, he ordered the Marines to retaliate. He reluctantly presided over the U.S. evacuation of Vietnam. Facing an aggressive Soviet Union, he managed to broker the Helsinki Accords, which guaranteed civil liberties in Soviet bloc countries and helped in their eventual liberation.
But as Ford's legacy was assessed last week, what seemed to matter most was simply the man himself. At a time when the country needed it, Ford projected an authentic decency coupled with a deep respect for the American system of government. He was the right man at the right time.