George H.W. Bush
January 2, 2007
Well, as the story goes, Gerald Ford was a newly minted candidate for the United States House of Representatives in June of 1948 when he made plans with a reporter to visit the dairy farmers in western Michigan’s Fifth Congressional District. It was pouring rain that particular day and neither the journalist nor the farmers had expected the upstart candidate to keep his appointment. And yet he showed up on time because, as he explained to the journalist, “they milk cows every day and, besides that, I promised.”
Long before he arrived in Washington, Gerald Ford’s word was good. During the three decades of public service that followed his arrival in our nation’s capital, time and again he would step forward and keep his promise even when the dark clouds of political crisis gathered over America.
After a deluded gunman assassinated President Kennedy, our nation turned to Gerald Ford and a select handful of others to make sense of that madness. And the conspiracy theorists can say what they will, but the Warren Commission report will always have the final definitive say on this tragic matter. Why? Because Jerry Ford put his name on it and Jerry Ford’s word was always good.
A decade later, when scandal forced a vice president from office, President Nixon turned to the minority leader in the House to stabilize his administration because of Jerry Ford’s sterling reputation for integrity within the Congress. To political ally and adversary alike, Jerry Ford’s word was always good.
And, of course, when the lie that was Watergate was finally laid bare, once again we entrusted our future and our hopes to this good man. The very sight of Chief Justice Berger administering the oath of office to our 38th president instantly restored the honor of the Oval Office and helped America begin to turn the page on one of our saddest chapters.
As Americans we generally eschew notions of the indispensable man, and yet during those traumatic times, few if any of our public leaders could have stepped into the breach and rekindled our national faith as did President Gerald R. Ford.
History has a way of matching man and moment. And just as President Lincoln’s stubborn devotion to our Constitution kept the Union together during the Civil War, and just as F.D.R.’s optimism was the perfect antidote to the despair of the Great Depression, so too can we say that Jerry Ford’s decency was the ideal remedy for the deception of Watergate.
For this and for so much more, his presidency will be remembered as a time of healing in our land. In fact, when President Ford was choosing a title for his memoirs, he chose words from the book of Ecclesiastes.
Here was the verse:
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
“A time to be born, a time to die.
“A time to kill, and a time to heal.
“A time to weep, and a time to laugh.
“A time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
He acknowledged that he was no saint. To know Jerry was to know a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. An avuncular figure, quick to smile, frequently with his pipe in his mouth. He could be tough. He could be tough as nails when the situation warranted. But he also had a heart as big and as open as the Midwest plains on which he was born. And he imbued every life he touched with his understated gentility.
When we served together in the House of Representatives years ago, I watched from the back bench — I watched this good man — and even from way back there I could see the sterling leadership qualities of Jerry Ford. And later, after I followed his footsteps into the Oval Office, he was always supportive.
On the lighter side, Jerry and I shared a common love of golf and also a reputation for suspect play before large crowds.
“I know I’m playing better golf,” President Ford once reported to friends, “because I’m hitting fewer spectators.”
He had a wonderful sense of humor and even took it in stride when Chevy Chase had to make the entire world think that this terrific, beautifully coordinated athlete was actually a stumbler. Ford said it was funny. He wrote it in his memoir.
I remember that lesson well, since being able to laugh at yourself is essential in public life. I’d tell you more about that, but as Dana Carvey would say: “Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.”
In the end, we are all God’s children. And on this bittersweet day we can take solace that the Lord has come and taken this good man by the hand and led him home to heaven.
It is plain to see how the hand of providence spared Jerry in World War II and later against two assassination attempts. And for that we give thanks. It is just as plain to see how the same hand directed this good man to lead a life of noble purpose, a life filled with challenge and accomplishment, a life indelibly marked by honor and integrity. And today we give thanks for that, too.
May Almighty God bless the memory of Gerald R. Ford, keep him firm in the hearts of his countrymen. And may God bless his wonderful family.