President Richard Cheney
U.S. Capital Rotunda
December 30, 2006
Ford, Susan, Mike, Jack,
and Steve; distinguished
guests; colleagues and
friends; and fellow citizens:
Nothing was left unsaid, and at the end of his days, Gerald Ford knew how much he meant to us and to his country. He was given length of years, and many times in his company we paid our tributes and said our thanks. We were proud to call him our leader, grateful to know him as a man. We told him these things, and there is comfort in knowing that. Still, it is an ending. And what is left now is to say goodbye.
He first stood under this dome at the age of 17, on a high school tour in the Hoover years. In his congressional career, he passed through this Rotunda so many times -- never once imagining all the honors that life would bring. He was an unassuming man, our 38th President, and few have ever risen so high with so little guile or calculation. Even in the three decades since he left this city, he was not the sort to ponder his legacy, to brood over his place in history. And so in these days of remembrance, as Gerald R. Ford, goes to his rest, it is for us to take the measure of the man.
It's hard to imagine that this most loyal of men began life as an abandoned child, facing the world alone with his mother. He was devoted to her always, and also to the fine man who came into their lives and gave the little boy a name he would carry into history. Gerald and Dorothy Ford expected good things of their son. As it turned out, there would be great things, too -- in a journey of 93 years that would fill them with loving pride.
Jerry Ford was always a striver -- never working an angle, just working. He was a believer in the saying that in life you make your own luck. That's how the Boy Scout became an Eagle Scout; and the football center, a college all-star; and the sailor in war, a lieutenant commander. That's how the student who waited tables and washed dishes earned a law degree, and how the young lawyer became a member of the United States Congress, class of 1948. The achievements added up all his life, yet he was known to boast only about one. I heard it once or twice myself -- he said he was never luckier than when he stepped out of Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids with a beautiful girl named Betty as his bride.
Fifty-eight years ago, almost to the day, the new member from Michigan's fifth district moved into his office in the Cannon Building, and said his first hello to the congressman next door, John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. They belonged to a generation that came early to great duties, and took up responsibilities readily, and shared a confidence in their country and its purposes in the world.
In that 81st Congress were four future Presidents, and others who wished for that destiny. For his part, Mr. Ford of Michigan aspired only to be Speaker of the House, and by general agreement he would have made a fine one. Good judgment, fair dealing, and the manners of a gentleman go a long way around here, and these were the mark of Jerry Ford for a quarter century in the House. It was a Democrat, the late Martha Griffiths, who said, "I never knew him to make a dishonest statement nor a statement part-true and part-false, and I never heard him utter an unkind word."
Sometimes in our political affairs, kindness and candor are only more prized for their scarcity. And sometimes even the most careful designs of men cannot improve upon history's accident. This was the case in the 62nd year of Gerald Ford's life, a bitter season in the life of our country.
It was a time of false words and ill will. There was great malice, and great hurt, and a taste for more. And it all began to pass away on a Friday in August, when Gerald Ford laid his hand on the Bible and swore to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. He said, "You have not elected me as your President by your ballot, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers."
What followed was a presidency lasting 895 days, and filled with testing and trial enough for a much longer stay. Even then, amid troubles not of his own making, President Ford proved as worthy of that office as any who had ever come before. He was modest and manful; there was confidence and courage in his bearing. In judgment, he was sober and serious, unafraid of decisions, calm and steady by nature, always the still point in the turning wheel. He assumed power without assuming airs; he knew how to treat people. He answered courtesy with courtesy; he answered discourtesy with courtesy.
This President's hardest decision was also among his first. And in September of 1974, Gerald Ford was almost alone in understanding that there can be no healing without pardon. The consensus holds that this decision cost him an election. That is very likely so. The criticism was fierce. But President Ford had larger concerns at heart. And it is far from the worst fate that a man should be remembered for his capacity to forgive.
In politics it can take a generation or more for a matter to settle, for tempers to cool. The distance of time has clarified many things about President Gerald Ford. And now death has done its part to reveal this man and the President for what he was.
He was not just a cheerful and pleasant man -- although these virtues are rare enough at the commanding heights. He was not just a nice guy, the next-door neighbor whose luck landed him in the White House. It was this man, Gerald R. Ford, who led our republic safely through a crisis that could have turned to catastrophe. We will never know what further unravelings, what greater malevolence might have come in that time of furies turned loose and hearts turned cold. But we do know this: America was spared the worst. And this was the doing of an American President. For all the grief that never came, for all the wounds that were never inflicted, the people of the United States will forever stand in debt to the good man and faithful servant we mourn tonight.
Thinking on all this, we are only more acutely aware of a time in our lives and of its end. And we can be certain that Gerald Ford would now ask only that we remember his wife. Betty, the President was not a hard man to read, and to his friends nothing was more obvious than the source of his great happiness. It was you. And all the good that you shared, Betty, all the good that you did together, has not gone away. All of that is forever.