U.S. Capital Rotunda
December 30, 2006
Ford, Michael, Jack, Steven,
and Susan, distinguished
guests, members of the
Ford family, friends of
Gerald Ford in America
and throughout the world:
Tonight we say good-bye to a true gentleman, an exceptional leader, and our good friend, President Gerald Ford.
In our nation’s history, only nine men have been called upon to assume the mantle of the presidency by succession. Even among these chosen few, Gerald Ford stands out as exceptional for only one man has assumed both the vice presidency and the presidency.
When he took his oath as president, we were a people shaken by disbelief, racked with cynicism, and paralyzed by doubt. Then President Ford’s voice – gentle but firm – told us, “We must go forward now together.”
In our nation’s darkest hour, Gerald Ford lived his finest moment. Guided by his conscience, informed by our history, supported by the love and friendship of his wife, Betty, he was the man the hour required. He knew the road toward national healing began with courage to forgive. He reminded us: while the presidency may be a human institution, there is great nobility in its humanity.
While his path to office was unlikely, history will know Gerald Ford’s presidency was no accident. By the time he took the oath of office, he had achieved everything he set his mind to do: He earned the rank of Eagle Scout and became the University of Michigan football team’s most valuable player. During World War II, he served our country with distinction and was one of the men who inspired the title “the Greatest Generation.” He honorably served the people of Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives.
A “Man of the House,” Jerry Ford stepped proudly into his role as Vice President, and the Senate welcomed him as the President of our chamber. While he never voted to break a tie in the Senate, he was known to all of us as a person full of friendship, willing to sit and discuss issues at the request of any Senator.
President Ford achieved the goals he sought, but history will remember most, how, in its hour of need, our nation sought him. As our 38th President, Gerald Ford stood ready to faithfully execute his office. In doing so, he woke us and told us – and I quote – “Our long national nightmare is over.”
He was the steady hand in the storm, an honest broker of compromise. he became a great leader – an example for others to follow. President Ford understood the unique circumstances of his moment in history. he strove not to placate some, but to serve all. In so doing, he showed us there were still things which were good and honest and true. He restored our faith in our leaders, and he ensured the office of the presidency was an institution worthy of the people it serves.
We here honor a leader for America and the world. President Ford fought high inflation and unemployment, completed the process of bringing our troops home from Vietnam, set the framework for the Middle East peace accords, and began a new era of cooperation and friendship with Japan. He was deeply beloved by the people of Alaska for signing legislation to protect the marine resources within 200 miles of our shores.
No one should suggest the tasks before him were easy. President Ford was scrutinized, questioned, and criticized. He was tested by the fire of public opinion. Few have remained hopeful in the face of such adversity, but Gerald Ford’s optimism about America never wavered. He faced each challenge with bravery and courage matched only by his wife Betty, a woman who literally offered hope to millions of Americans by candidly sharing her experiences and inner strength.
President Ford once said, “I am indebted to no man, and only one woman – my dear wife.” That debt our nation shares, for Betty Ford is one of the most remarkable first ladies to have ever graced the White House.
In the days since President Ford’s passing, many words have been spoken and many statements published alluding to the tremendous character with which he approached his nearly three decades in public life. It was a character I witnessed firsthand when, as chair of our Senate Campaign Committee, I worked closely with President Ford and his running mate, Senator Bob Dole. During that time, I developed a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for Jerry Ford as a man, a father, and a husband. As was his running mate, Bob Dole, he was deeply committed to our democracy. absolute honesty, integrity, and openness were the hallmarks of his career. They are now the legacy and the challenge he leaves to us.
President Ford’s life is a reminder to those who serve this democracy – under this Capitol dome and elsewhere – that we are – for a time – the keepers of this great American experiment. Good stewardship requires us to see beyond party, beyond division, beyond personal aspirations.
President Ford once said: “The Constitution is the bedrock of all of our freedoms. Guard and cherish it, keep honor and order in your own house, and the Republic will endure.”
It will be a fitting tribute to our good friend’s memory to make this truth our intention and our purpose.
Upon taking the oath of office, President Ford asked our nation to pray for him. In the next two days, Americans will come to this Rotunda to join us in praying for him once again. The line of visitors saying farewell has literally stretched from sea to shining sea – from California to our nation’s capitol. And it will end in Michigan, where the prayers of our grateful nation will carry President Ford on his final journey home.