Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Grace Episcopal Church
Grand Rapids, Michigan
January 3, 2007
Reverend, clergy, President and Mrs. Carter, Mr. Vice President and Lynne, honored guests and friends of Gerald Rudolph Ford.
There's an old saying in Washington that every member of the United States Congress looks in the mirror and sees a future president. Well, Jerry Ford was different. I suspect that when he looked in a mirror, even after he became president, he saw a citizen and a public servant.
A few days ago a neighbor offered an insight, saying, "He was one of us." And he was. And that made him special and needed in a dark and dangerous hour for our nation.
No matter how mean-spirited or partisan Washington became -- and let's not forget that as president, Gerald Ford, as other presidents, was roundly criticized and belittled, but he never lowered himself to that level.
Mr. Vice President, you will recall well his strong disapproval when his longtime friend, Congressman George Mahon, a Democrat, was criticized. And his deep disappointment when, for a variety of reasons, he was unable to attend a function honoring his political rival but close friend, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tip O'Neill. In the Oval Office, working on his transition to the presidency, we saw him welcome advice from Democrats and Republicans alike in those very early days.
But the advice he valued most, as he put it, "Was that which comes from my wife." Betty, as I recall, your advice was unvarnished, sometimes unsolicited, and almost always right on the mark. Indeed, everyone who knew him could see that Gerald Ford seemed to marvel every day at his great good fortune at having met and married Elizabeth Bloomer Ford.
Betty was a first lady like no other, an inspiration for truly millions that she never met and a rock of support for a husband who relied greatly on her wisdom, her candor, and, indeed, her personal courage. Betty, we thank you for your devotion to him, to our country, and to the millions of Americans who have benefited because you have touched their lives.
Mike, Jack, Steve and Susan, you and your children are in our prayers today also. You strengthened and sustained your dad during a profound and turbulent time. And your country is grateful for that.
You know, a wonder of America is that its future presidents can rise from unlikely places: a log cabin in Kentucky, a haberdashery in Missouri, an ice creamery in Kansas, or a paint shop in Michigan.
In fact, a visit to this city in the 1920s or 30s might well have come across a towheaded boy cleaning paint cans or selling soda at the amusement park to earn some extra money during the Depression.
Jerry Ford had a self-described fiery demeanor. He said because of it, his mother made a lot of friends, all of the mothers of the kids that he had gotten into scraps with. But if he had a certain "vinegar," he was also brimming with promise. He demonstrated that at Michigan, at Yale, as a volunteer in the Navy stationed aboard the USS Monterey.
When Joyce and I visited him just after Thanksgiving, he told us about the time that the USS Monterey, the aircraft carrier he served on in World War II, encountered a typhoon which heavily damaged the ship and nearly threw him overboard. I doubt that he ever imagined that 30 later, he would be at the head of a different kind of ship, swept by a different kind of storm, and that America would be depending on his steady and trusted hand at the helm.
When I joined Gerald Ford as a member of Congress in 1962, I found a skillful legislator who had earned the respect of his colleagues. He was energetic in his desire to serve and to contribute, but he did not wake up every morning wondering how he could get ahead. In fact, in 1964, Betty will remember that a small group of us had to work very, very hard to persuade Jerry Ford to run for minority leader of the United States House of Representatives. And I was able to see him work skillfully to achieve passage of the historic civil rights legislation during the 1960s.
Later, as White House chief of staff, I was standing next to President Ford during two assassination attempts that stunned an already traumatized country, which he handled with courage, with poise, and, I should add, with good humor.
He was a patriot who knew that freedom is precious and that it comes at a cost. I'm grateful that I was serving last year when the Navy considered naming a new aircraft carrier class the USS Gerald R. Ford, a decision to be announced some time later this month, I'm told. And, without giving away any secrets, I can report that, during that visit with President Ford, I brought him a cap with the USS Gerald R. Ford emblazoned across the top of it. How fitting it will be that the name Gerald R. Ford will patrol the high seas for decades to come, in the defense of the nation he loved so much.
Over the past few days, in the midst of our mourning, Americans have searched for the words to best describe Jerry Ford, the man, and the Ford era. My own thoughts are drawn to the profound and historic legacy he created in his nearly 900 days as president. It takes time and distance before one can truly measure an event or even an era, but many here remember well what our country was like on that day that Gerald Ford took the presidency.
The pressures were enormous. The stakes were high. The world was watching. And the American people were holding their breath, wondering what would happen next.
The words President Ford used to reassure our country and the American people were plain and they were straightforward. His sincerity gave them eloquence. Even in a country coarsened by skepticism, few doubted that the gentleman from Michigan would keep his word.
That was his special magic. He was then, and remains today, the only person who took office without having been elected to either the presidency or the vice presidency. He had no national base. He had no political platform, no campaign team, no time to prepare for his truly awesome responsibilities. In a sense, he stepped into an airplane in full flight as the command pilot, without even knowing the crew.
Our Cold War enemies were searching for signs of vulnerability. So the American president had to be strong.
Our nation was reeling from bitterness and suspicion. So the president needed to be comforting and reassuring.
The economy was fragile, and our national political institutions were shaken. So the president had to be decisive and confident.
Our country generally seems blessed to find the right leader at the right time. Through that special providence, the times found Gerald Ford. Because Gerald Ford was there to restore the strength of the presidency, to rebuild our defenses, and to demonstrate firmness and clarity, America could again, in Lincoln's words, "stand as the last, best hope of Earth."
He reminded Americans of who they were. And he put us on the right path, when the way ahead was, at best, uncertain. And, all things considered, those are probably most lasting and profound contributions that a leader can make.
It's commonly said that President Ford healed the nation. And he did. Like all great leaders, he knew victory, and he knew loss. After a long and tough campaign, one might have expected him to carry some bitterness over his narrow defeat for election in his own right.
Instead, he remembered the cloudy skies over Washington on the day of -- he first entered the White House. And, as his plane left the city on his last day as president, he recalled that the sun was shining brightly.
He said, "I couldn't see a cloud anywhere, and I felt glad about that."
Today, we say goodbye to a leader, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and, for so many of the people here today, a friend. And we take comfort knowing that Gerald Ford is now in a place greater than even the country he led, a kingdom everlasting, and without a cloud in sight. It is a place where, in the words of the scriptures, "the lord God will wipe away tears from all faces."
May God bless Gerald Ford and his strong and loving family. And may God bless the country he loves so much, served so well, and did so much to heal and strengthen.