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Local residents reflect on Ford's presidency

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Described once by former Pres. Lyndon Johnson as "a man who could not walk and chew bubble gum at the same time," President Gerald Rudolph Ford is praised by The Financial Times Limited writer Jurek Martin as a president who "walked the fine line of the presidency well enough at the most difficult of times and still toasted his own breakfast muffins."

Ford, who died on unspecified causes Dec. 26, is memorialized today as the longest living president. Del Norte County residents are among those with fond memories of the only unelected president.

Ford rose to the presidency following the Aug. 1974 resignation of Richard Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

"He came into a presidency of disgrace, but he had one of the highest approval ratings," said Scott R.J. Fellar, chairman of the Del Norte County Republican Party. "He brought the country together and kept it going."

Fellar described Ford as loyal to his friends, using as an example the site of Ford's Presidential Museum in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Ford also is remembered for his pardon on the man he replaced — Richard Milhaus Nixon.

"I remember the turmoil in the country when he was appointed," said Eleanor Parsons, a longtime Republican Party member. "I remember we were all apprehensive when he pardoned President Nixon, but he was such a decent man, it was shown in his long, untarnished service in the Congress, that we knew he was doing it for the right reasons to bring the country together."

The pardon likely cost him a presidential term of his own in 1976, when he lost to Jimmy Carter by about 2 percentage points.

"He had the foresight to take it on the chin to put the country together," Fellar said. "I think he did the right thing."

History may treat Ford more kindly than did initial reaction to the Nixon pardon.

Shortly after news of his death at his Rancho Mirage residence became public, however, an informal AOL poll indicated about two-thirds of respondents believe the pardon was the right thing to do.

"He did a good job under trying circumstances. It would have caused more problems not to pardon him," said Earl Morgan, another long-time Republican. Morgan is the party's Central Committee Treasurer.

But the pardon was not Ford's only controversial move. In an effort to reunite the country following the Vietnam War, he pardoned about 50,000 U.S. draft dodgers and military deserters.

Though Ford's presidency ended more than 30 years ago, his decisions still influence that office today. As he assembled his Cabinet, Ford replaced Alexander Haig with Dick Cheney, now vice president, as chief of staff. He installed Donald Rumsfeld at the Department of Defense and George H.W. Bush at the CIA.

Ford, who turned down many offers to play pro-football, is also remembered for his support of affirmative action.

In an op-ed piece he wrote for The New York Times in 1999, he reminisced about his friend Willis Ward, a black man he said was "among the best players" on the Wolverines. When the squad played Georgia Tech, the southern university's request that Ward be cut from the roster was something Ford understood.

Ford, a moderate Republican, opposed the poll tax, designed to keep poor people — primarily blacks — from voting. he supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

He opposed school busing to force school integration, a position that alienated some Congressional Black Caucus members. Only one, Rep. Andrew Young of Georgia, voted to confirm his as vice president, according to The Washington Post.

Ford was a member of the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy.

Former Pres. Bill Clinton awarded him the nation's nighest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, in 1999.

He survived two assassination attempts, both perpetrated by women.

 


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