GERALD R. FORD WAS the regular-guy president. Friendly and unassuming, Ford, whose death at 93 was announced Tuesday, came into office after the Watergate affair forced out Richard Nixon. Ford's openness and humanity was a refreshing contrast to the icy awkwardness and extensive covering up of his predecessor.
"Our long national nightmare is over," Ford proclaimed memorably on the day he assumed office. He and his wife Betty immediately telegraphed a more affable mood in Washington. Ford engendered a more candid relationship with reporters and a less combative stance toward Congress, where he had served for 25 years in the House representing Grand Rapids, Mich., including eight years as minority leader.
Two accidents of history propelled Ford to the presidency. After Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973, Nixon wanted a loyal No. 2, someone who could win easy approval in Congress and, some historians suggest, a man whose lack of presidential bearing might blunt the efforts that were brewing to remove Nixon. Ten months later, Nixon was out, and for the first time in U.S. history, a man who had never run for president or vice president became commander in chief.
In his two-plus years as president, Ford faced a tortuous gamut of foreign and domestic challenges, including the communist takeover of Vietnam, disarmament talks with the Soviet Union and raging inflation domestically. In day-to-day governing, his heavy reliance on the presidential veto opened him to criticism that he was less of a leader and more of a reactor. After all the controversies that have dogged presidents since, however, the Ford presidency looks relatively calm.