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Gerald Ford Dies At 93

Sworn in after Nixon resigned, new president helped nation recover

December 27, 2006|Robert L. Jackson | Special to The Times

Gerald R. Ford, who as the 38th president of the United States helped restore the nation's political stability after the trauma of the Watergate scandal, has died, his widow, Betty, announced Tuesday night.

"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," the former first lady said in a brief statement issued from her husband's office in Rancho Mirage. "His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country."

He died at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday at his home in Rancho Mirage. No cause of death was released.

Ford had been in declining health for several years. In August he had a cardiac pacemaker implanted during a stay at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. A few days later, he underwent a second heart procedure when stents were placed into two of his coronary arteries to increase blood flow.

With Ford's death, George H.W. Bush, 82, becomes the oldest living former president. He and President Carter were both born in 1924, but Bush was born in June and Carter in October.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 28, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
President Ford obituary: A photo caption accompanying the obituary of Gerald R. Ford in some editions of Wednesday's Section A misidentified Chief Justice Warren Burger as Earl Warren.

President George W. Bush's chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, told Bush of Ford's death just before 8 p.m. PST, Deputy White House Press Secretary Scott Stanzel said. Bush, at his ranch near Crawford, Texas, called Betty Ford about an hour later "to express his personal condolences," Stanzel said.

In a prepared statement released by the White House, said Bush and First Lady Laura Bush were "greatly saddened" by Ford's death. "The American people will always admire Gerald Ford's devotion to duty, his personal character, and the honorable conduct of his administration," the statement said. "We mourn the loss of such a leader, and our 38th president will always have a special place in our nation's memory. On behalf of all Americans, Laura and I offer our deepest sympathies to Betty Ford and all of President Ford's family. Our thoughts and prayers will be with them in the hours and days ahead."

Ford, a Republican, served first as vice president and then as president without benefit of election. He was House minority leader in 1973 when he was chosen by President Nixon to serve as vice president after Spiro T. Agnew was forced to resign because of financial irregularities. Less than a year later, Ford was thrust into the Oval Office when Nixon resigned because of Watergate.

Ford took the presidential oath at 12:03 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 9, 1974, in a nationally televised ceremony in the East Room of the White House. Once sworn in, he stepped to a microphone to address the cameras and hundreds of tearful staffers who had just waved goodbye to Nixon's helicopter as it rose from the White House lawn.

"Our long national nightmare is over," Ford said. "Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws and not of men."

Untainted himself by Watergate, Ford was left the task of restoring public confidence in an institution badly damaged by the corrosive constitutional crisis that, until Nixon's resignation, was spiraling toward the president's impeachment and conviction in the Senate.

But, after serving barely a month as president, Ford made the controversial decision to grant Nixon a blanket pardon for any crimes he may have committed while in office. Many thought Ford's move fueled national cynicism about government and the officials who ran it. Others thought it was the correct decision to move the country past Watergate.

Ford defended his actions by saying he had hoped to end the bitter debate over whether to prosecute Nixon, which had become a serious distraction for the White House. He conceded after his narrow defeat by Carter in 1976, however, that the pardon instead had had "an adverse impact" on his popular support, although he maintained that he had made the "right decision."

Ford took over a disoriented and virtually immobilized administration at a time of mounting problems. Abroad, the long, costly U.S. military presence in Southeast Asia was nearing an end. At home, an economy warped by inflation and energy shortages was sliding into a recession.

The new president sought to distinguish his habits from the perception that his predecessor ran an imperial presidency. Ford replaced Nixon's aides, and White House officials became more accessible than they had been in years. Trust and civility began to reappear in relations with Congress and the public.

One morning, he invited the White House press corps to chat with him while he ate a typical breakfast. As photographers snapped away, Ford sliced and buttered his own English muffins in the manner of the Upper Midwesterner he was.

Although Ford defended the American commitment in Southeast Asia after most U.S. officeholders wrote it off as political poison, he showed early sensitivity as president to the domestic divisions left by the unpopular conflict.

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