Gerald R. Ford, the nation’s only unelected president, has died at age 93.
He was a man of his time but not quite up to his time. He tried to give the nation a breath of fresh air after the stench of Watergate, and he succeeded up. But he sealed his own political fate by pardoning Richard M. Nixon. Whether he knew the political price he would have to pay for that act is for historians to ponder.
He was the first president I could remember that had changed his name. He was born on Flag Day, July 14, 1913 as Leslie Lynch King Jr in Omaha, Neb. After his parents divorce and his the remarriage of his parents, the took the name of his adopted stepfather, Gerald R. Ford.
He was a longtime member of the House of Representatives and was elevated to vice president when Spiro T. Agnew had to resign in disgrace. When Nixon followed his running mate into resignation, Ford took over the White House.
He and his wife, Betty, were a breath of fresh air. He cooked his own breakfast, was a physical fitness follower.
\He also could laugh at himself. He had to, because he seemed to always be falling down, either from a podium or stairs leading to an airplane. The comedian Chevy Chase made a career out of doing Ford-inspired pratfalls on Saturday Night Live and Ford seemed to delight in that, although people would say, some seriously, that he forgot to wear a helmet during his football days at Michigan.
He went to Yale Law School and served in the House for 25 years, but his most famous act, the “full, free and absolute pardon unto Richard M. Nixon” was the act for which he will be remembered.
He served less than two years in the White House and was soundly beaten by Jimmy Carter of Georgia in an election in which the nation tried to rid itself of any vestige of Watergate.
After his term, he appeared at Republican conventions but did not seem to be interested in being an elder statesman. Ironically, it was Nixon who became more of the party elder than the man who succeeded him.
Ford tried very hard to do the task for which he was never elected. He was beset by inflation, a bad economy and troubles in the world, as well as the American scandal he sought to end. At the time, he was welcomed, a man who shunned the secrecy of Nixon and the formality of previous chief executives. But in the end, it was only to lead the nation to four more years of Carter, who succeeded only in making things worse but did not have the verve and sense of fun that Ford possessed.
I remember those times and have a good feeling about Ford. He tried. He relaxed and tried to get the nation to relax with him. He tried to get the nation to feel good about itself and eschewed the tragedy and formality of his predecessor. His vigor and vitality were a gift to a bereft nation, but in the end, all it did was bring us Jimmy Carter. In the end, the nation could not forgive him for the pardon, which may have been the only way we could have emerged from the stench of Watergate.
Rest well, Mr. Ford.