The Accidental President
Leslie Lynch King Jr. was born on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Neb. His father, Leslie Lynch King Sr., a wool trader, and his mother, Dorothy Ayer King, were separated 16 days later and divorced the following December.
In February of 1916, Dorothy King married Gerald Rudolff Ford, a paint salesman, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Soon thereafter, Dorothy began calling her son "Gerald Rudolff Ford Jr." and the name stuck. When Gerald Rudolff Ford Jr. legally changed his name in 1955, he used the more conventional spelling of his middle name.
As a young lad, Gerald Ford joined the Boy Scouts of America and became an Eagle Scout. As an athletic teen-ager, he was captain of the Grand Rapids High School football team.
While attending the University of Michigan (1932-35), Ford washed dishes to earn money for expenses. He played center and linebacker for the school's football team which won national titles in 1932 and 1933. After his senior season, he participated in the 1935 Collegiate All-Star football game against the Chicago Bears.
In 1935, he earned a degree in political science and economics. After graduation, he turned down contract offers from the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions and applied to Yale Law School.
While attending law school, he often worked as a fashion model. For example, he appeared in the March 1940 issue of Look magazine and on the cover of the April 1940 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.
After he graduated from Yale, Ford returned to Grand Rapids in 1941 and opened a law practice.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, Ford enlisted in the Navy and received a commission as ensign in April of 1942. In 1943-44, he served as assistant navigator on the carrier Monterey in the Pacific, received nine engagement medals and two bronze stars, and was discharged in February of 1946.
In 1948, Ford was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and married an ex-dancer named Elizabeth Bloomer Warren (Betty Ford) shortly before the election. He held the seat for 24 years, representing the Grand Rapids district from 1949 to 1973. In 1963, Republican members of the House elected him minority leader.
Republican Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, succeeding Democrat Lyndon Johnson. Spiro Agnew became the new vice president. Nixon and Agnew won a second term in office in 1972.
In October of 1973, Agnew was accused of accepting bribes and income tax evasion. He promptly resigned in disgrace and was later convicted. Nixon chose Gerald Ford (the first person ever appointed to the vice presidency) to succeed Agnew. Ford was confirmed 92 to 3 by the Senate and 387 to 35 by the House.
The following summer, the Watergate affair began to unfold and it became clear that Nixon had been part of the cover-up. Facing impeachment, Nixon resigned on Aug. 9 and Gerald Ford became our 38th president.
Ford pardoned Nixon, a highly controversial decision, survived two assassination attempts, and served out the term with his usual low-key dignity. He kept the ship steady and on course during a tumultuous period.
He reluctantly agreed to run for the presidency in 1976 but narrowly lost to Jimmy Carter.
Ford was the only U.S. President to become an Eagle Scout or to have been a magazine fashion model.
He was also the only U.S. President to stumble down the staircase when disembarking from an airplane, tumble down a ski slope and clobber a spectator with a golf ball, all within the same six months. Combined with his charisma, which resembled a potted plant in slow motion, he was great fodder for TV comedians.
But he wasn't full of himself, was more conciliatory than confrontational, and believed in teamwork. He never sought the power of the presidency, which is perhaps a positive trait for the job. Basically, he was a decent man.
In a certain sense, he was a great president. He took over after the dread of Vietnam and the paranoia of Watergate, a time of deep divisiveness in America, and brought some civility back to the White House.
Gerald Ford was the right man for the time. He died on Dec. 26, 2006, at age 93.
May he rest in peace.
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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels, which are available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.