Former President Ford dead at 93
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LOS ANGELES - Gerald R. Ford, who picked up the pieces
of Richard Nixon's scandal-shattered White House as
the 38th and only unelected president in America's
history, has died, his wife, Betty, said Tuesday. He
"My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that
Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather
and great grandfather has passed away at 93 years of
age," Mrs. Ford said in a brief statement issued from
her husband's office in Rancho Mirage. "His life was
filled with love of God, his family and his country."
The statement did not say where Ford died or list a
cause of death. Ford had battled pneumonia in January
2006 and underwent two heart treatments including an
angioplasty in August at the Mayo Clinic in
He was the longest living president, followed by
Ronald Reagan, who also died at 93. Ford had been
living at his desert home in Rancho Mirage, Calif.,
about 130 miles east of Los Angeles.
Ford was an accidental president, Nixon's hand-picked
successor, a man of much political experience who had
never run on a national ticket. He was as open and
straight-forward as Nixon was tightly controlled and
He took office minutes after Nixon flew off into exile
and declared "our long national nightmare is over."
But he revived the debate a month later by granting
Nixon a pardon for all crimes he committed as
president. That single act, it was widely believed,
cost Ford election to a term of his own in 1976, but
it won praise in later years as a courageous act that
allowed the nation to move on.
The Vietnam War ended in defeat for the U.S. during
his presidency with the fall of Saigon in April 1975.
In a speech as the end neared, Ford said: "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." Evoking Abraham Lincoln, he said it was
time to "look forward to an agenda for the future, to
unify, to bind up the nation's wounds."
Ford also earned a place in the history books as the
first unelected vice president, chosen by Nixon to
replace Spiro Agnew who also was forced from office by
He was in the White House only 895 days, but changed
it more than it changed him.
Even after two women tried separately to kill him, the
presidency of Jerry Ford remained open and plain.
Not imperial. Not reclusive. And, of greatest
satisfaction to a nation numbed by Watergate, not
Even to millions of Americans who had voted two years
earlier for Richard Nixon, the transition to Ford's
leadership was one of the most welcomed in the history
of the democratic process despite the fact that it
occurred without an election.
After the Watergate ordeal, Americans liked their new
president and first lady Betty, whose candor charmed
They liked her for speaking openly about problems of
young people, including her own daughter; they admired
her for not hiding that she had a mastectomy in
fact, her example caused thousands of women to seek
And she remained one of the country's most admired
women even after the Fords left the White House when
she was hospitalized in 1978 and admitted to having
become addicted to drugs and alcohol she took for
painful arthritis and a pinched nerve in her neck.
Four years later she founded the Betty Ford Center in
Rancho Mirage, a substance abuse facility next to
Eisenhower Medical Center.
Ford slowed down in recent years. He had been
hospitalized in August 2000 when he suffered one or
more small strokes while attending the Republican
National Convention in Philadelphia.
The following year, he joined former presidents
Carter, Bush and Clinton at a memorial service in
Washington three days after the Sept. 11 attacks. In
June 2004, the four men and their wives joined again
at a funeral service in Washington for former
President Reagan. But in November 2004, Ford was
unable to join the other former presidents at the
dedication of the Clinton presidential library in
Little Rock, Ark.
In January, Ford was hospitalized with pneumonia for
12 days. He wasn't seen in public until April 23, when
President Bush was in town and paid a visit to the
Ford home. Bush, Ford and Betty posed for
photographers outside the residence before going
inside for a private get-together.
The intensely private couple declined reporter
interview requests and were rarely seen outside their
home in Rancho Mirage's gated Thunderbird Estates,
other than to attend worship services at the nearby
St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert.
In a long congressional career in which he rose to be
House Republican leader, Ford lit few fires. In the
words of Congressional Quarterly, he "built a
reputation for being solid, dependable and loyal a
man more comfortable carrying out the programs of
others than in initiating things on his own."
When Agnew resigned in a bribery scandal in October
1973, Ford was one of four finalists to succeed him:
Texan John Connally, New York's Nelson Rockefeller and
California's Ronald Reagan.
"Personal factors enter into such a decision," Nixon
recalled for a Ford biographer in 1991. I knew all of
the final four personally and had great respect for
each one of then, but I had known Jerry Ford longer
and better than any of the rest.
"We had served in Congress together. I had often
campaigned for him in his district," Nixon continued.
But Ford had something the others didn't, he would be
easily confirmed by Congress, something that could not
be said of Rockefeller, Reagan and Connally.
So Ford it was. He became the first vice president
appointed under the 25th amendment to the
On Aug. 9, 1974, after seeing Nixon off to exile, Ford
assumed the office. The next morning, he still made
his own breakfast and padded to the front door in his
pajamas to get the newspaper.
Said a ranking Democratic congressman: "Maybe he is a
plodder, but right now the advantages of having a
plodder in the presidency are enormous."
It was rare that Ford was ever as eloquent as he was
for those dramatic moments of his swearing-in at the
"My fellow Americans," he said, "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."
And, true to his reputation as unassuming Jerry, he
added: "I am acutely aware that you have not elected
me as your president by your ballots. So I ask you to
confirm me with your prayers."
For Ford, a full term was not to be. He survived an
intraparty challenge from Ronald Reagan only to lose
to Democrat Jimmy Carter in November. In the campaign,
he ignored Carter's record as governor of Georgia and
concentrated on his own achievements as president.
Carter won 297 electoral votes to his 240. After
Reagan came back to defeat Carter in 1980, the two
former presidents became collaborators, working
together on joint projects.
Even as president, Ford often talked with reporters
several times a day. He averaged 200 outside speeches
a year as House Republican leader, a pace he kept up
as vice president and diminished, seemingly, only
slightly as chief executive. He kept speaking after
leaving the White House, generally for fees of $15,000