RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) - Former President Gerald R. Ford,
who declared "Our long national nightmare is over" as he replaced
Richard Nixon but may have doomed his own chances of election by
pardoning his disgraced predecessor, has died. He was 93.
The nation's 38th president, and the only one not elected to the
office or the vice presidency, died at his desert home at 6:45 p.m.
"His life was filled with love of God, his family and his
country," his wife, Betty, said in a statement.
Ford was the longest living former president, surpassing Ronald
Reagan, who died in June 2004, by more than a month.
Ford's office did not release the cause of death, which followed
a year of medical problems. He was treated for pneumonia in January
and had an angioplasty and pacemaker implant in August.
Funeral arrangements were to be announced Wednesday.
"The American people will always admire Gerald Ford's devotion
to duty, his personal character and the honorable conduct of his
administration," President Bush said in a statement Tuesday night.
Former President Carter described him as "one of the most
admirable public servants and human beings I have ever known."
Ford was an accidental president. A Michigan Republican elected
to Congress 13 times before becoming the first appointed vice
president in 1973 after Spiro Agnew left amid scandal, Ford was
Nixon's hand-picked successor, a man of much political experience
who had never run on a national ticket. He was as open and
straightforward as Nixon was tightly controlled and conspiratorial.
He took office moments after Nixon resigned in disgrace over
"My fellow Americans," Ford said, "our long national
nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a
government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule."
And, true to his reputation as unassuming Jerry, he added: "I
am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your president by
your ballots. So I ask you to confirm me with your prayers."
He revived the debate over Watergate a month later by granting
Nixon a pardon for all crimes he committed as president.
That single act, it was widely believed, contributed to Ford
losing election to a term of his own in 1976. But it won praise in
later years as a courageous act that allowed the nation to move on.
The Vietnam War ended in defeat for the U.S. during his
presidency with the fall of Saigon in April 1975. In a speech as
the end neared, Ford said: "Today, America can regain the sense of
pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by
refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned."
Evoking Abraham Lincoln, he said it was time to "look forward to
an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the nation's
Ford became the first vice president appointed under the 25th
amendment to the Constitution.
He assumed the office on Aug. 9, 1974. The next morning, he
still made his own breakfast and padded to the front door in his
pajamas to get the newspaper.
After the Watergate ordeal, Americans liked their new president
- and first lady Betty, whose candor charmed the country.
At a joint session after becoming president, Ford addressed
members of Congress as "my former colleagues" and promised
"communication, conciliation, compromise and cooperation." But
his relations with Congress did not always run smoothly.
He vetoed 66 bills in his barely two years as president.
Congress overturned 12 Ford vetoes, more than for any president
since Andrew Johnson.
In his memoir, "A Time to Heal," Ford wrote, "When I was in
the Congress myself, I thought it fulfilled its constitutional
obligations in a very responsible way, but after I became
president, my perspective changed."
Some suggested the pardon was prearranged before Nixon resigned,
but Ford, in an unusual appearance before a congressional committee
in October 1974, said, "There was no deal, period, under no
circumstances." The committee dropped its investigation.
Ford's standing in the polls dropped dramatically when he
pardoned Nixon. But an ABC News poll taken in 2002 in connection
with the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in found that six
in 10 said the pardon was the right thing to do.
In 1976, he survived an intraparty challenge from Ronald Reagan
only to lose to Democrat Jimmy Carter in November. In the campaign,
he ignored Carter's record as governor of Georgia and concentrated
on his own achievements as president.
Carter won 297 electoral votes to his 240. After Reagan came
back to defeat Carter in 1980, the two former presidents became
collaborators, working together on joint projects.
The decision to pardon Nixon won Ford a John F. Kennedy Profile
in Courage Award in 2001, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, acknowledging
he had criticized Ford at the time, called the pardon "an
extraordinary act of courage that historians recognize was truly in
the national interest."
He was undaunted even after the two attempts on his life in
September 1975. Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a 26-year-old follower
of Charles Manson, was arrested after she aimed a semiautomatic
pistol at Ford on Sept. 5 in Sacramento, Calif. A Secret Service
agent grabbed her and Ford was unhurt.
Seventeen days later, Sara Jane Moore, a 45-year-old political
activist, was arrested in San Francisco after she fired a gun at
the president. Again, Ford was unhurt.
Both women are serving life terms in federal prison.
Asked at a news conference to recite his accomplishments, Ford
replied: "We have restored public confidence in the White House
and in the executive branch of government."
As to his failings, he responded, "I will leave that to my
opponents. I don't think there have been many."
Ford spent most of his boyhood in Grand Rapids, Mich.
He was born Leslie King on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Neb. His
parents were divorced when he was less than a year old, and his
mother returned to her parents in Grand Rapids, where she later
married Gerald R. Ford Sr. He adopted the boy and renamed him.
Ford played center on the University of Michigan's 1932 and 1933
national champion football teams. He got professional offers from
the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers, but chose to study law
at Yale, working his way through as an assistant varsity football
coach and freshman boxing coach.
Ford got his first exposure to national politics at Yale,
working as a volunteer in Wendell L. Willkie's 1940 Republican
campaign for president. After World War II service with the Navy in
the Pacific, he went back to practicing law in Grand Rapids and
became active in Republican reform politics.
His stepfather was the local Republican chairman, and Michigan
Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg was looking for a fresh young
internationalist to replace the area's isolationist congressman.
Ford got twice as many votes as Rep. Bartel Jonkman in the
Republican primary and then went on to win the election with 60.5
percent of the vote, the lowest margin he ever got.
He had proposed to Elizabeth Bloomer, a dancer and fashion
coordinator, earlier that year, 1948. She became one of his
hardest-working campaigners and they were married shortly before
the election. They had three sons, Michael, John and Steven, and a
Ford was the last surviving member of the Warren Commission,
which investigated the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963
and concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin.