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Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. (1913 - 2006)

38th U.S. President

When Gerald R. Ford became the 38th president of the United States on Aug. 9, 1974, the nation had for the first time in its history an appointed chief executive. He took leadership of the country when his predecessor, Richard M. Nixon, became the first United States president to resign.

In Ford's two and one-half years as president, his greatest challenge was to deal with the country's severe recession. By late 1975 his cautious policies to limit spending and control inflation seemed to be bringing steady improvement to the economy.

Unemployment remained high, however, and it was largely on this issue that Ford lost the 1976 election to the Democratic nominee, Jimmy Carter.

Ford was minority leader of the United States House of Representatives when President Nixon designated him vice-president on Oct. 12, 1973. Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew had resigned two days earlier, after pleading no contest on a felony charge of federal income tax evasion. Ford ascended to the vice-presidency under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1967. The scandals of the Nixon Administration made it clear that Ford might be elevated to the presidency. Congress subjected him to closest scrutiny ever given a public official. An inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and open Congressional hearings resulted in Ford 's confirmation by a vote of 92 to 3 in the Senate and 387 to 35 in the House. He was sworn in on Dec. 6, 1973.

In his 25 years as Republican congressman from Grand Rapids, Mich., Ford was unmistakably partisan and conservative in his politics; but his Democratic opposition respected him as a politician and liked him as a trustworthy and unpretentious man.

The Early Years
Gerald Rudolph Ford was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents separated two weeks after his birth and his mother remarried Gerald R. Ford, a Grand Rapids paint salesman, two years later. The future president grew up in a close- knit family which included three younger half-brothers, Thomas, Richard, and James.

Ford attended South High School in Grand Rapids, where he excelled scholastically and athletically. Ford attended The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, from 1931 to 1935 where he majored in economics and political science. He graduated with a B.A. degree in June 1935. 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, played in the annual East-West College All-Star game in San Francisco, for the benefit of the Shrine Crippled Children's Hospital. In August 1935 he played in the Chicago Tribune College All-Star football game at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears.

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 hoping to attend law school there. 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 had just become 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, when the United States entered World War II.

In April 1942 Ford joined the U.S. Naval Reserve receiving a commission as an ensign. After an orientation program at Annapolis, he became a physical fitness instructor at a pre- flight school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In the spring of 1943 he began service in the light aircraft carrier USS 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, including Truk, Saipan, and the Philippines. His closest call with death came not as a result of enemy fire, however, but during a vicious typhoon in the Philippine Sea in December 1944. He came within inches of being swept overboard while the storm raged. The ship, which was severely damaged by the storm and the resulting fire, 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 locally prestigious law firm of Butterfield, Keeney, and Amberg. A self-proclaimed compulsive "joiner," Ford was well-known throughout the community. Ford has 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, who was county Republican chairman, 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.

During the height of the campaign Gerald Ford married Elizabeth Ann Bloomer Warren, a department store fashion consultant. They were to have 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.

Ford later was co-author of a book `Portrait of the Assassin' (1966).