It was October 12, 1973. Spiro Agnew, only recently resigned from the office of Vice President due to criminal charges including tax evasion and money laundering, needed a replacement. President Richard Nixon, seeking possible candidates for appointment, had a very short list of potentials to choose from: Gerald R. Ford.
Ford’s story is an interesting one – he holds the singular distinction of being the only president whose name was different from the name on his birth certificate. Born Leslie Lynch King Jr. in Omaha, Nebraska, Ford was renamed at roughly two and a half years of age when his mother remarried Gerald R. Ford Sr., a Grand Rapids native.
Ford then proceeded to stockpile accomplishments. He became an Eagle Scout – the only president to do so – and after graduating from Grand Rapids South High School, went on to lead the University of Michigan Wolverines football team to two undefeated seasons and two national championships. The Wolverines retired Ford’s number, no. 48, in 1994. He valued his time in Ann Arbor greatly, as evidenced by how often he would have the Naval band play U of M’s fight song instead of ‘Hail to the Chief’ at presidential events.
Ford declined several offers to play football professionally, instead taking a coaching job at Yale with hopes of being admitted to Yale law. By the summer of 1941 he had opened a law practice back in Grand Rapids.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Ford enlisted in the Navy and spent the next four years serving our country during World War II. His service would continue just a couple of years later, though not in the military, but in Michigan’s 5th congressional district in the House of Representatives. He won this seat 12 more times, only to become Vice President under the 25th amendment, again the first to do so in 1973. By late December of ’73, Ford was confirmed as Vice President by both the house and the senate. His time as Vice President was largely ignored by the media due to a little thing called Watergate, however.
On August 9, 1974 Richard M. Nixon resigned, and Ford, after only having been vice president for 7 months, assumed the Presidency. Barely a month later, he issued Nixon a full and unconditional pardon, which many consider cost him reelection in 1976. In October of ’74 he was called to give sworn testimony regarding the pardon – again, the only president to do so. In 2001 he was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his pardon of Nixon.
Ford also made progress in the still ongoing situation in Vietnam, with over one hundred thousand South Vietnamese refugees came to the states in 1975 alone. For reasons unexplained, there were two attemps on Ford’s life, both of which were thwarted by the secret service. After a short, but eventful presidency, Ford eventually lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter. After the election Ford was held in high esteem by his successors. He was even considered as Ronald Reagan’s running mate in 1980.
Ford is remembered throughout Michigan. He founded the Gerald R. Ford Institute of Public Policy at Albion College, the Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor and the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids. He is also remembered fondly as the first republican to support full equality for the gay and lesbian community, even stating that there should be a federal amendment regarding anti-discrimination. Ford also spoke out against the war in Iraq, although the statement was not released until after his passing per his request. Gerald R. Ford died in December, 2006 at over 93 years of age – the longest-lived president. He is interred at the presidential museum in Grand Rapids.