Leslie Lynch King Jr died yesterday at the age of 93.
His passing would have gone unnoticed to most of the world, but for the new name he received as a toddler when his mother remarried, and which he assumed legally as he came of age.
1948 photo courtesy of The Gerald R Ford Library
Gerald Rudolph Ford was the only President of the USA to have attained his office under the terms, if only indirectly, of the 25th Amendment. Ford was minority leader of the House of Representatives when Spiro Agnew resigned as Vice President in 1973. Upon the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August of 1974, Ford automatically succeeded to the Presidency.
Although he would be dismissed as a "moderate Republican" today, Ford was an old-school balance-the-budget conservative in the days before the "Reagan revolution," vetoing many spending bills of a Democratic-controlled Congress, but at the same time voicing approval of abortion on demand. His wife, Betty, changed the role of the First Lady forever, from that of silent partner and official hostess, to a woman with a mind of her own.
I remember President Ford's attempts to push humanitarian aid through Congress for the Republic of (South) Vietnam, which was in danger of being overrun by the North, at a time when those bozos on the Hill were too obsessed with kicking Nixon while he was down, to give a hoot in hell about anything or anyone else. Such indifference extended to an ally alongside whom we fought for a cause that, whatever you may think of it, we left in their hands with hopeless odds. Fortunately, many thousands of Vietnamese citizens were let into this country, where they have contributed significantly to American life, while maintaining their close-knit communities and unique heritage.
Ford was the first president for whom I ever voted. It was the 1976 election, when he lost to the more fashionable Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter. (In those days, you still had to be 21 to vote. By the way, how's Jimmy's legacy holding up?) He may have been unglamorous and unassuming, but Ford was solid and dependable, in the mold of a true Midwesterner, and he had no illusions about his place in history. There were jokes about his apparent awkwardness, despite his being an avid sportsman all his life. He was criticized for his full pardon of Richard Nixon, although history may look favorably upon his initiative at moving the nation forward. He was not known as a gifted speaker, let alone quick on his feet with a soundbite, which belied his being a high-ranking graduate of Yale School of Law. These apparent liabilities may have ultimately tarnished his image in the 1976 campaign. Even as President, he would say that one of his proudest achievements was achieving the rank of Eagle Scout.
My father once told me that "some men are born great, others achieve greatness, still others have it thrust upon them." Ford was an example of how the reluctant can stand tall in the spotlight. This was reflected well in his statement upon appointment to the Presidency:
"I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it. Those who nominated and confirmed me as Vice President were my friends and are my friends. They were of both parties, elected by all the people and acting under the Constitution in their name. It is only fitting then that I should pledge to them and to you that I will be the President of all the people."