Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. (born July 14, 1913) (born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., renamed after adoption) was the fortieth (1973-1974) Vice President and the thirty-eighth (1974-1977) President of the United States. He remains the only individual to serve as President without ever having been elected to either the presidency or vice presidency. Instead, following the resignation of Spiro Agnew he was nominated as Vice President by Richard Nixon and approved by both houses of Congress (not just the Senate, as is the procedure for Cabinet Members, Supreme Court justices, and most others), in line with the 25th Amendment.
When Nixon resigned on noon of August 9, 1974 Ford assumed the presidency.
Along with his own vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, he is one of only two people to have been appointed Vice President rather than elected. As of 2005, he is the oldest living former President. On July 14, 2004, he became the second former U. S. President (after Ronald Reagan) to reach
his 91st birthday.
At present, Ford is the second longest lived president in U. S. history. Should Ford live to or beyond November 11, 2006, he will become the longest lived U. S. president. He also has the second longest retirement among presidents at 28 years, behind Herbert Hoover.
Early life Ford was born to Leslie Lynch King and Dorothy Ayer Gardner in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents divorced two years after he was born, and his mother remarried to Gerald Ford, after whom he was renamed after being adopted by his step-father. He and Democrat Bill Clinton are the only two U. S. Presidents to have been adopted. Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and starred as a center playing American football for the University of Michigan. A three-year letterman, Ford helped the Wolverines to undefeated seasons in 1932 and 1933 and was voted the team’s most valuable player in 1934. (His number 48 jersey has since been retired by the school.) After graduating the following spring, he turned down contract offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers of the National Football League.
While at the Yale Law School, Ford joined a group of students led by R. Douglas Stuart, Jr. as they signed a petition to enforce the 1939 Neutrality Act. This petition was circulated nationally and was the inspiration for America First, a group determined to keep America out of World War II. Ford graduated from law school in 1941, having coached football and boxing part time to pay for school.
Ford joined the Boy Scouts as a child and attained the highest rank of Eagle Scout. He always regarded this as one of his proudest accomplishments even after attaining the White House. He is quoted for saying, “I am the first Eagle Scout President!”
World War II Ford in uniform, 1945In April 1942 Ford joined the U. S. Naval Reserve receiving a commission as an ensign. After an orientation program at Annapolis, he became a physical fitness instructor at a pre – flight school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In the spring of 1943 he began service in the light aircraft carrier USS Monterey (CVL-26). He was first assigned as athletic director and gunnery division officer, then as assistant navigator with the Monterey, which took part in most of the major operations in the South Pacific, including Truk, Saipan, and the Philippines.
His closest call with death came not as a result of enemy fire, however, but during a vicious typhoon in the Philippine Sea in December 1944. He came within inches of being swept overboard while the storm raged. The ship, which was severely damaged by the storm and a resulting fire, had to be taken out of service.
Ford spent the remainder of the war ashore and was discharged as a lieutenant commander in February 1946.
House of Representatives: Minority Leader Ford was a member of the House of Representatives for 24 years from 1949 to 1973, and became Minority Leader of the Republican Party in the House. Ford was very popular with the voters in his district and was always re-elected with 60% margins. He always stayed in close touch with the people of Grand Rapids. During his first campaign, he visited farmers and promised he would work on their farms and milk their cows if elected – a promise which he apparently fulfilled (http://www. englishcottagegardens. com/barnhistory. html).
Ford won an award in 1961 as a “Congressman’s Congressman” that praised his committee work on military budgets. During his tenure, Ford was chosen to serve on the Warren Commission, a special task force set up to investigate the causes of, and quell rumors regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Commission eventually concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in killing the President, a conclusion sometimes disparaged by conspiracy theorists as the “Lone Nut Theory”. Today Ford is the only surviving member of the Commission, and continues to stand behind its conclusions. During the eight years (1965-1973) he served as Minority Leader, Ford won many friends in the House due to his fair leadership and inoffensive personality.
He often attacked the “Great Society” programs of President Lyndon Johnson as unneeded or wasteful. He made a speech attacking Johnson’s Vietnam war policies called “Why are we pulling our punches in Vietnam?”. Ford charged that the President was meddling in the war effort and not letting the military do its job. Ford appeared on a televised series of press conferences with famed Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen that became very popular.
The two men proposed Republican alternatives to President Johnson’s policies. Many in the press jokingly called this “The Ev and Jerry Show”. Ford also led an effort to impeach William O. Douglas, who was a Justice on the United States Supreme Court.
Ford made a speech charging Douglas with criminal activities and with promoting rebellion in his writings.
Vice-President After Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned during Richard Nixon’s presidency, on October 10, 1973, Nixon nominated Ford to take Agnew’s place, under the 25th Amendment – the first time it was applied. The United States Senate voted 92 to 3 to confirm Ford on November 27, 1973 and on December 6, the House confirmed him 387 to 35. Ford had long been one of President Nixon’s most outspoken supporters (someone joked once that “He is one of the few people who not only admires Nixon, but actually likes him!”).
Ford traveled widely as Vice President and made many speeches defending the embattled President. He cited the many achievements of President Nixon and dismissed Watergate as a media event and a tragic sideshow.
Presidency Vice President Ford is sworn in as the 38th President of the United States by Chief Justice Warren Burger as Mrs. Ford looks on. When Nixon then resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal on August 9, 1974, Ford assumed the presidency, proclaiming that “our long national nightmare is over”.
On August 20 Ford nominated former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill the Vice Presidency he had vacated, again under the 25th Amendment.
Pardons Nixon One month later, Ford gave Nixon a pardon for any crimes he may or may not have committed while President or indeed anything else he might have done – a move that many historians believe cost him the election in 1976.
Economy The economy was a great concern during the Ford administration. In response to rising inflation, Ford went before the American public on television in October 1974 and asked them to “whip inflation now” (WIN); as part of this program, he urged people to wear “WIN” buttons. However, most people recognized this as simply a public relations gimmick without offering any effective means of solving the underlying problem.
At the time inflation was around 7%, a relatively modest number in retrospect, but still enough to discourage investment and push capital overseas and into government bonds.
The economic focus began to change as the country sank into a mild recession, and in March 1975, Ford and Congress signed into law income tax rebates to help boost the economy.
Aftermath of Watergate In the aftermath of Watergate, the Democrats scored major gains in both the House and the Senate in the 1974 elections. Ford and Congress battled over legislation, with Ford vetoing scores of Democrat-supported bills.
Foreign policy President Ford, left, and USSR’s Leonid Brezhnev meet at the Vladivostok summit negotiations, 1974Ford also faced a foreign policy crisis with the Mayaguez Incident. In May 1975, shortly after the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia, Cambodians seized an American merchant ship, the Mayaguez, in international waters. Ford dispatched Marines to rescue the crew, but the Marines landed on the wrong island and met unexpectedly stiff resistance just as, unknown to the US, the Mayaguez sailors were being released. In all phases of the operation, fifty service men were wounded and forty-one killed, including three men believed to have been left behind alive and subsequently executed and twenty-three Air Force personnel killed earlier while en route to the staging area at Utapao, Thailand.
It is believed that approximately sixty Khmer Rouge soldiers were killed out of a land and sea force of about 300.
Ford’s presidency also saw the final withdrawal of American personnel from Vietnam, in ‘Operation Frequent Wind’. On 29 April and the morning of 30 April 1975 the American embassy in Saigon was evacuated, amidst chaotic scenes.
Later elections At the 1980 Republican National Convention, Ford was nearly nominated to return to service as Vice President under nominee Ronald Reagan. On the day a Vice President was to be nominated, however, Reagan could not convince Ford to join him on the ticket and instead chose George H. W. Bush, who had rivaled him for the presidential nomination. While attending the 2000 Republican National Convention, Ford suffered two mild strokes, but has subsequently recovered.
He was hospitalized twice for dizziness in 2003.
Honors Ford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1999 for his efforts to heal the nation after the Watergate scandal. The Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan was named after him in December 1999.
In 2001 Ford was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, a presigious award given by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for political courage. Ford was cited for his “controversial decision of conscience to pardon former President Richard M. Nixon,” and leading the country through the tumultuous times of the late 1970s.
On November 22, 2004, New York Republican Governor George Pataki named Ford and the other living former presidents (Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton) as honorary members of the board rebuilding the World Trade Center.
Ford was one of four ex-presidents who joined then-president Bill Clinton in attending the funeral of Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994, in Nixon’s hometown of Yorba Linda, California. Post-Presidential Years Ford has remained relatively active as a former President, and during his post-presidential years he continued to make appearances at events of historical and ceremonial significance to the nation, such as presidential inaugurals and memorial services. In 1981 he opened the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
During the 1990s and early 2000s he remained America’s most active “elder statesman” president, as Ronald Reagan became unable to attend functions in his final years due to the advancement of Alzheimer’s disease. Ford has remained an avid fan of Michigan football and delivered a videotaped message before Michigan and Ohio State played their 100th game in 2003. In 1999, the School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan was renamed the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy in honor of Ford’s lifetime of public service.
Ford was also in a brief scene on The Simpsons as Homer Simpson’s new neighbor from across the street (the house he bought was previously owned by George H. W. Bush.) Ford invites Homer to his house to eat nachos, drink beer, and watch football. As they head towards the house, as Homer is telling Ford how they will get to be great friends, they trip on the curb at the same time and exclaim, “D’oh!”
Ford has been outspoken on a variety of political issues confronting the nation since leaving office. Although he had taken a more centrist-to-conservative stance on the matter while campaigning for president in 1976, Ford has emerged as a leading pro-choice Republican on abortion rights; he has been an advisor to Republicans for Choice, and told Larry King in an interview that he shared in his wife’s outspoken support of reproductive rights. Ford has also endorsed civil unions for gay couples, and urged Republicans not support the impeachment President William J. Clinton in the late 1990s.
Health Concerns Recently, there has been ongoing speculation regarding Ford’s health. Though he gave an interview to Larry King in June 2004, attended the funeral of former President Reagan, and spoke at ceremonies commemorating the 30th anniversary of his swearing-in in August 2004, Ford has appeared increasingly frail – and this may have caused him to cut back on his formerly busy schedule. He was, for the first time in his political life, unable to attend a Republican National Convention when he didn’t attend the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. In addition, Ford was the only living former president not to attend ceremonies for the opening of the Bill Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Former president Bill Clinton told Larry King in an interview that Ford had confided that he now feels uncomfortable when flying in aircraft. He was the only living former president not to attend the second inauguration of President George W. Bush in 2005.
When New York Republican Governor George Pataki named the living former presidents as honorary members of the board rebuilding the World Trade Center, he was unaware of Ford’s health decline in the recent months.
In 2003, Ford’s death was incorrectly announced by CNN when his pre-written obituary (along with those of several other famous figures) was inadvertently published on CNN’s web site due to a lapse in password protection.