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Pastor James Ford Dies at 70; Longtime U.S. House Chaplain

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  • Loren Coleman
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A27461-2001Aug31.html Pastor James Ford Dies at 70; Longtime U.S. House Chaplain By Adam Bernstein Washington
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2001

      Pastor James Ford Dies at 70; Longtime U.S. House Chaplain

      By Adam Bernstein
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Saturday, September 1, 2001; Page B06

      The Rev. Dr. James D. Ford, 70, a Lutheran pastor who became the U.S. House
      of Representatives' first full-time chaplain in 1979 and served in the post
      until retiring last year, died Aug. 27 aboard his boat at the Gangplank
      Marina in Washington.

      D.C. Medical Examiner Jonathan L. Arden said that Pastor Ford died of a
      gunshot wound and that his death was a suicide.

      As chaplain, Pastor Ford's duties included opening each legislative session
      with a prayer and providing counseling and pastoral services to House
      members and staffers. He estimated that he performed the marriage ceremonies
      of 30 House members during his career. He officiated in October at the
      wedding of former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and congressional
      staffer Callista Bisek.

      Pastor Ford was reportedly the first House chaplain to serve full-time.
      Previous chaplains held other pastorates or were retired clergy members on

      He faced reelection every two years, and in the mid-1990s some political
      observers expected Republican House leaders, in a budget-cutting gesture, to
      make the chaplaincy voluntary again. The chaplain said it never came about
      because of his good relationship with members of both major parties.

      Gingrich, the House speaker from 1995 to 1999, said in an interview that
      Pastor Ford's greatest strength was his effective personal counseling of
      members experiencing personal tragedy and alcoholism.

      Pastor Ford's retirement set off a rancorous House debate over the choice of
      a successor. As his retirement approached, he told a reporter that he
      preferred to see congressional bickering as a positive sign.

      "This is not a monastery," he said. "The noise here is part of our
      democracy. I traveled in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. I went to their
      parliament, and there was no noise. I went to East Germany; there was no
      noise. I prefer noise. I prefer argument. That's a sign of health."

      James David Ford, the son and grandson of Lutheran ministers, was born in
      Sioux Falls, S.D., and grew up throughout Minnesota. His father's surname
      was Anderson, but he changed it because he felt it was too common in that
      region; he selected Ford because he felt the car firm was distinctly

      Pastor Ford was a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and
      received a doctorate in divinity from Wagner College in New York. He was
      ordained in 1957 in what is now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

      He was a parish pastor in Ivanhoe, Minn., from 1958 to 1961 and then became
      an assistant chaplain at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
      President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him senior chaplain in 1965, and he
      held that title until coming to Washington.

      Pastor Ford, an Alexandria resident, was known for one-liners in which his
      love for his ancestry was evident. He might drop in conversation his
      conviction that Jesus spoke Swedish or say, "I know that God is from
      Minnesota. I just don't know if he's a Republican or a Democrat."

      In private, Pastor Ford was something of a daredevil. A skilled skier since
      childhood, he once won a bet for backward ski jumping.

      He also loved sailing and riding motorcycles, and a few years ago he
      developed an interest in flying ultra-light aircraft.

      Survivors include his wife of 47 years, Marcia Sodergren Ford of Alexandria;
      five children, Julie Ruth Dunwoody of Oak Hill, Va., Peter David Ford of
      Alexandria, Marie Ford Rice of Belgium, Molly Ford Croft of Atlanta and
      Sarah Ford of Arlington; a sister; and nine grandchildren.
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