Ford, Gerald R., 1913-2006

Alternative names
Birth 1913-07-14
Death 2006-12-26

Biographical notes:

Gerald Rudolph Ford, the 38th President of the United States, was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., the son of Leslie Lynch King and Dorothy Ayer Gardner King, on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents separated two weeks after his birth, and his mother took him to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to live with her parents. On February 1, 1916, approximately two years after her divorce was final, Dorothy King married Gerald R. Ford, a Grand Rapids paint salesman. The Fords began calling her son Gerald R. Ford, Jr., although his name was not legally changed until December 3, 1935. He did not know until 1930 that Gerald Ford, Sr., was not his biological father. The future president grew up in a close- knit family that included three younger half-brothers, Thomas, Richard, and James. Ford attended South High School in Grand Rapids, where he excelled scholastically and athletically, being named to the honor society and the All-City and All-State football teams. He was also active in scouting, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout in November 1927. He earned spending money by working in the family paint business and at a local restaurant. From 1931 to 1935 Ford attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he majored in economics and political science. As a student, he held various part-time jobs to supplement his scholarship. A gifted athlete, Ford played on the University''s national championship football teams in 1932 and 1933. He was voted the Wolverine''s most valuable player in 1934, and on January 1, 1935 he played in the annual East-West College All-Star game in San Francisco. In August 1935 he played in the Chicago Tribune College All-Star football game at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in June 1935. He received offers from two professional football teams, the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers, but chose instead to take a position as boxing coach and assistant varsity football coach at Yale University, hoping to attend law school there. Among those he coached were future U.S. Senators Robert Taft, Jr. and William Proxmire. Yale officials initially denied him admission to the law school, because of his full-time coaching responsibilities, but admitted him in the spring of 1938. Ford earned his LL.B. degree in 1941, graduating in the top 25 percent of his class, in spite of the time he had to devote to his coaching duties. His introduction to politics came in the summer of 1940 when he worked in Wendell Willkie''s presidential campaign. After returning to Michigan and passing his bar exam, Ford and a University of Michigan fraternity brother, Philip A. Buchen (who later served on Ford''s White House staff as Counsel to the President), set up a law partnership in Grand Rapids. He also taught a course in business law at the University of Grand Rapids and served as line coach for the school''s football team. He became active in a group of reform-minded Republicans in Grand Rapids, calling themselves the Home Front, who were interested in challenging the hold of local political boss Frank McKay. In April 1942 Ford joined the U.S. Naval Reserve and received a commission as an ensign. He became a physical fitness instructor at a pre-flight school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In the spring of 1943 he began service on the light aircraft carrier U.S.S. Monterey. He was first assigned as athletic director and gunnery division officer, then as assistant navigator with the Monterey, which took part in most of the major operations in the South Pacific. During a vicious typhoon in the Philippine Sea in December 1944, the ship was severely damaged and had to be taken out of service. Ford spent the remainder of the war ashore and was discharged as a lieutenant commander in February 1946. When he returned to Grand Rapids, Ford became a partner in the prestigious law firm of Butterfield, Keeney, and Amberg. Ford stated that his experiences in World War II caused him to reject his previous isolationist leanings and adopt an internationalist outlook. With the encouragement of his stepfather, the Home Front, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg, Ford decided to challenge the isolationist incumbent Bartel Jonkman for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1948 election. He won the nomination by a wide margin and was elected to Congress on November 2, receiving 61 percent of the vote in the general election. Two weeks before he was elected to his first term in Congress, Ford married Elizabeth Ann "Betty" Bloomer, on October 15, 1948. They had four children: Michael Gerald, born March 14, 1950; John Gardner, born March 16, 1952; Steven Meigs, born May 19, 1956; and Susan Elizabeth, born July 6, 1957. Gerald Ford served in the House of Representatives from January 3, 1949 to December 6, 1973, being reelected twelve times, each time with more than 60% of the vote. He became a member of the House Appropriations Committee in 1951, and rose to prominence on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, becoming its ranking minority member in 1961. As his reputation as a legislator grew, Ford declined offers to run for both the Senate and the Michigan governorship in the early 1950s. His ambition was to become Speaker of the House. In 1960 he was mentioned as a possible running mate for Richard Nixon in the presidential election. In 1961, Ford defeated Charles Hoeven of Iowa for Chairman of the House Republican Conference, the number three leadership position in the party. In 1963 President Johnson appointed Ford to the Warren Commission, investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In 1965 Ford co-authored, with John R. Stiles, a book entitled Portrait of the Assassin, about the findings of the Warren Commission. In 1965, Ford narrowly won the position of minority leader of the House, and took over the position early in 1965, holding it for eight years. In both the 1968 and 1972 elections, Ford was a loyal supporter of Richard Nixon, who had been a friend for many years. When Spiro Agnew resigned from the office of Vice President late in 1973, after pleading no contest to a charge of income tax evasion, President Nixon was empowered by the 25th Amendment to appoint a new vice president. Nixon chose Gerald R. Ford, and he was confirmed and sworn in as Vice President of the United States on December 6, 1973. The Watergate scandal, the break-in at Democratic headquarters during the 1972 campaign and the ensuing cover-up by Nixon administration officials, hung over Ford''s nine-month tenure as vice president. After Nixon became the first president in U.S. history to resign from that office, Gerald R. Ford took the oath of office as President of the United States on August 9, 1974. In foreign policy, Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger continued the policy of détente with the Soviet Union and "shuttle diplomacy" in the Middle East. With the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 as background, Congress and the President struggled repeatedly over presidential war powers, oversight of the CIA and covert operations, military aid appropriations, and the stationing of military personnel. During the 1976 campaign, Ford fought off a strong challenge by Ronald Reagan to gain the Republican nomination. He chose Senator Robert Dole of Kansas as his running mate and succeeded in narrowing Democrat Jimmy Carter''s large lead in the polls, but finally lost one of the closest elections in history. Upon returning to private life, President and Mrs. Ford moved to California where they built a new house in Rancho Mirage. President Ford''s memoirs, A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford, were published in 1979. Since leaving the White House in January 1977, President Ford has lectured at numerous colleges and universities, on such issues as Congressional/White House relations, federal budget policies, and domestic and foreign policy issues. Associated with the American Enterprise Institute, President Ford attends the annual Public Policy Week Conference, and in 1982 established the AEI World Forum, which he hosts annually in Vail/Beaver Creek, Colorado. In 1981, the Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, were dedicated. Since that time, President Ford has participated in conferences and lecture series in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, and in 1987 he published another book, Humor and the Presidency. Ford died on December 26, 2006, in Rancho Mirage, California.


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