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December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford, 38th President Of The United States, Dies At 93

The following statement has been issued by former First Lady Betty Ford and the Ford family regarding the death of former President Gerald Ford.

“My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather has passed away at 93 years of age,” Mrs. Ford said in a statement issued from her husband’s office in Rancho Mirage, also the location of the Betty Ford Center. “His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country.”

Gerald Ford, the only man to serve as President and Vice President without being elected to either office, has died at age 93. He had been in ill-health for some time.

Ford, a senior member of the GOP leadership in the House of Representatives, was selected as Vice president by President Richard Nixon following the resignation of Spiro Agnew in the wake of corruption charges. Less than a year later, Ford succeeded Nixon when the latter resigned from office in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Ford had many accomplishments during his brief time in the White House.

Ford was the only occupant of the White House never elected either to the presidency or the vice presidency. A former Republican congressman from Grand Rapids, Mich., he always claimed that his highest ambition was to be speaker of the House of Representatives. He had declined opportunities to run for the Senate and for governor of Michigan.

He was sworn in as president Aug. 9, 1974, when Richard M. Nixon resigned as a result of the Watergate scandal.

"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over," Ford said in his inaugural address.

"I believe that truth is the glue that holds government together, not only our government, but civilization itself. That bond, though strained, is unbroken at home and abroad."

Ford had become vice president Dec. 6, 1973, two months after Spiro T. Agnew pleaded no contest to a tax evasion charge and resigned from the nation's second-highest office. The former Maryland governor was under investigation for accepting bribes and kickbacks.

In the 2 1/2 years of his presidency, Ford ended the U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam, helped mediate a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Egypt, signed the Helsinki human rights convention with the Soviet Union and traveled to Vladivostok in the Soviet Far East to sign an arms limitation agreement with Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet president.

Ford also sent the Marines to free the crew of the Mayaguez, a U.S. merchant vessel that was captured by Cambodian communists.

On the domestic front, he faced some of the most difficult economic conditions since the Great Depression, with the inflation rate approaching 12 percent. Chronic energy shortages and price increases produced long lines and angry citizens at gas pumps. In the field of civil rights, the sense of optimism that had characterized the 1960s had been replaced by an increasing sense of alienation, particularly in inner cities. The new president also faced a political landscape in which Democrats held large majorities in both the House and the Senate.

But Ford is perhaps best remembered for his pardon of Richard Nixon -- an act which I believe will be remembered as one of the most selfless acts in American history, for many historians consider it to be the overriding fact that led to his loss to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election.

As Ford explained in his memoirs, his goal was the healing of the nation. Presuming, of course, that Nixon would have been indicted for crimes related to Watergate, it was likely that the trial would have occurred against the backdrop of the 1976 national elections, poisoning the political process. Appeals would have meant that the case would likely have continued to be in the national eye during the 1978 and 1980 elections as well -- if not beyond, should there be any sort of retrial -- meaning that the wrong-doing of Nixon and his associates would have been a major factor in American politics for nearly a decade. The stresses this would have caused would have inflicted even greater damage upon the nation, and therefore Ford decided to issue the pardon a month after taking office.

Indeed, history is already beginning to see the wisdom of Ford's decision. In 2001, the former president received a "Profile in Courage" award from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in recognition of his decision -- and was praised by none other than Senator Ted Kennedy, who opposed the pardon at the time.

In the days to come, there will be many words said about Gerald Ford, as the media is saturated with coverage of his life and career, as well as the funeral rites associated with a presidential death. But let me sum it all up with a few words that I believe are fitting.

Gerald R. Ford
He placed the good of his country above his own political ambitions.

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