Former President Gerald R. Ford: A Badge of Honor

HENRY KISSINGER’S EULOGY FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GERALD FORD 

NYT INTERACTIVE FEATURE: FORMER PRESIDENT FORD’S LIFE AND TIMES

Adapted from today’s New York Times:

Gerald R. Ford was eulogized today as a president and a man who embodied the best of small-town American values and whose decency made him a player on the world stage.

To know Jerry Ford was to know a Norman Rockwell painting come to life,” former President George H. W. Bush told a gathering at the National Cathedral.  Mr. Ford was a man of uncommon toughness when necessary, but possessed of a heart “as big and open as the Midwest plains on which he was born,” Mr. Bush said.  The current President Bush agreed, calling the 38th president a man who stood for, and was, “the best of America,” a man who made “the tough, and decent, decision” to pardon his disgraced predecessor, Richard M. Nixon, even though he knew it might cost him the White House.

And Henry A. Kissinger, Mr. Ford’s secretary of state, said the late president was a man “unassuming and without guile,” perfectly equipped to restore Americans’ confidence in their values and institutions.  “Gerald Ford had the virtues of small-town America,” Mr. Kissinger said, citing Mr. Ford’s “absence of glibness and his artless decency.”  Nor were those qualities confined to restoring a collective feeling of content at home, Mr. Kissinger went on, declaring that Mr. Ford had done his best to see that the United States rescued as many people as possible “from the final agony of Indochina” after the Communist victory in Vietnam in 1975.

As if to rebut those who regard Mr. Ford as an amiable bench-warmer of a president, Mr. Kissinger said the Cold War might not have been won, had Gerald Ford not emerged at just the right time in history.  He noted, too, that Mr. Ford was one of the originators of the continuing annual economic summit of industrialized nations.  On a more personal note, Mr. Kissinger said Mr. Ford was a man of such qualities that those who worked with him cherish that time as “our badge of honor for the rest of our lives.”

Tom Brokaw, the retired NBC anchor and a White House correspondent in the 1970’s, said that Mr. Ford came to the White House with “no hidden agendas, no hit list of enemies,” an unmistakable allusion to Richard Nixon, although Mr. Brokaw did not name him.  “I would add, the most underestimated,” Mr. Brokaw said.

Leavening the solemn tributes were touches of humor.  The first President Bush said he and Mr. Ford shared a love for golf, but that both were guilty of “suspect play around crowds,” a reference to Mr. Ford’s occasional slices.  Once, when he was asked about the state of his game, Mr. Ford replied, “I’m hitting fewer spectators,” Mr. Bush recalled.  Noting that both he and Mr. Ford provided ample grist for comedians, the former president said he could go on with more anecdotes.  “Not gonna do it, wouldn’t be prudent,” Mr. Bush said, producing laughter with his fair imitation of Dana Carvey imitating him.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, who defeated Mr. Ford in 1976, attended the service.  Also present were former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, former United Nations Ambassador John R. Bolton and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.  President Bush accompanied Mr. Ford’s widow, Betty, who is 88, into the cathedral and down the aisle, under the flags of the states that the late president helped to unite three decades ago.

The passing of Gerald Ford at age 93 leaves the nation with three living former presidents.  Mr. Ford will be buried on Wednesday in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he got his start in politics nearly 60 years ago.

 

%d bloggers like this: