Gerald R. Ford
Gerald Ford has a couple of unique bits of trivia tied to him. He is the longest lived president in the US history (he was 93 years old). He is also the only President of the United States to have never been elected to that position (or vice president for that matter).
Born on July 14, 1913, Ford was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents divorced shortly after his birth. His mother remarried, Gerald Rudolff Ford, and raised him and his three half siblings in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Leslie was renamed Gerald Rudolff Ford, Jr, although his stepfather never legally adopted him. However, Ford had his named legally changed (with a slight variation on the spelling of his middle name) in 1935. Ford did not meet his biological father until he was 17 and maintained a cordial, if sporadic, relationship until Mr. Lynch’s death.
Ford at University of Michigan
Ford was an Eagle Scout and remained involved in scouting throughout his life. Ford was an outstanding athlete in high school and captain of the football team. Ford was a star linebacker and center at the University of Michigan winning national titles with the team in 1932 and 1933. A dedicated Wolverine throughout his life, prior to state visits, Ford would often have the Navy Band play the University of Michigan Fight Song, The Victors, instead of Hail to the Chief. Following college Ford was drafted by both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, declining both because he wanted to attend law school. He went to Yale working as a football, boxing and cheerleading coach while trying to get admitted to Yale Law School. In 1941 he graduated from Yale Law in the top 25% of his class.
Ford in 1945
In 1942, Ford was commissioned an ensign in the United States Navy and served on the USS Monterey during World War II. In 1946 he left the Navy with the rank of Lt. Commander.
1948 was a big year for Ford. He ran for the first of his 13 terms in the US House of Representatives and got married. On October 15, 1948 he married former model, dancer and divorcee Elizabeth Bloomer Warren. The would go on to have four children. Mrs. Ford was an ardent feminist, which often times did not sit with the conservative Republican Party and was never afraid to speak up on the controversial issues of the 70’s including drugs, ERA and abortion. Mrs. Ford became quite famous in her own right for her not only for her very very public struggles with breast cancer and alcoholism, but for opening of the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California in 1982 that treats people with chemical dependency. Until 2005 she was chairman of the board of the center. Time Magazine called Betty Ford the most politically active First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt.
Gerald Ford with his wife, Betty, being sworn in by Chief Justice Warren Burger in 1974
Ford served nearly 25 years in the House of Representatives and was minority leader for eight of them. After his service in the war, he called himself an internationalist in his view of the world. Ford was known to his colleagues in the House as a “Congressman’s Congressman.”1 In 1973 following the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, President Richard M. Nixon tapped Ford to be replace Agnew as vice president. Less than a year later, on August 9, 1974, President Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford became the 38th President of the United States. On September 8th during a televised broadcast to the nation, Ford gave Nixon a full pardon. The pardon was extremely controversial at the time. However, in 2001, Ford was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for his pardon of Nixon.
Ford’s cabinet contained many folks held over from the Nixon administration who would go on to serve the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush: Dick Cheney, Alexander Haig, Donald Rumsfeld, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scrowcroft, who was a speaker at the 2003 Harry S. Truman Legacy Symposium. George H. W. Bush served as the Director of the CIA under Ford.
1976 was an election year and Ford reluctantly agreed to run. First he had to face a challenger in his own party, former actor and California Governor, Ronald Reagan. The Democratic nominee was another fellow Navy man (and frequent Little White House visitor) Jimmy Carter, the former Governor of Georgia. Ford lost in one of the closest presidential elections ever 50.1% vs. 48%.
Following his departure from the White House, Ford created Gerald R. Ford Institute of Public Policy at Albion College in Albion, Michigan. He also worked on the Gerald R. Ford Library at his beloved alma mater, the University of Michigan, and the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids. Always the athlete, Ford also indulged in his passion for golf and often participated in pro-am tournaments with his good friend comedian Bob Hope.
On December 26, 2005, Gerald Ford died at his home in Rancho Mirage, California. He had surpassed Ronald Reagan as the longest-lived president by 45 days. He is one of two presidents to have died on December 26, the other being our own Harry S. Truman. Ford is interned at his presidential museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
President Ford's tomb at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
1. Celebrating the life of President Gerald R. Ford on what would have been his 96th birthday, H.R. 409, 111st Congress, 1st Session (2009).
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