Both were men whose road to the Presidency was most improbable. Though
Both Lincoln and Ford came to the office in a time of Constitutional crisis and deep political divisions. Neither brought with them an elitist pomposity that is too often found in those who rise to great heights of fame and power. Both were considered simple men, more likely to depend on common sense than academic acumen. If they were good communicators, it was because they both understood plain-speak. In fact,
Ford and Lincoln were genuinely respectful of those with whom they disagreed. More importantly, they were magnificently forgiving. Had he lived,
It is said that
I cannot know from experience whether the characterization of
My first contact with Ford came in my days as a consultant to the White House during the Nixon administration. As Minority Leader of the House of Representative, there were a number of occasions where I was invited (sometimes ordered) to meet with Ford at public forums or private meetings in his office. I was impressed by two qualities of the former President. After our first meeting, he never failed to recognize me by name in any setting, and had no problem referring to past conversations – whether the subject of critical policy or some anecdote of my personal life.
I also was impressed by the fact that when speaking to a person, he was fixed on the conversation. His eyes did not dart around the room looking for the next encounter or more important personality, as is a very common trait of politicians.
And then there was that Lincoln-esque casual friendliness. In the presence of Ford, one never felt awe – and lest not after a moment or two of conversation. It was more like meeting a nice guy at a local tavern. I sometimes wondered if this was not to his detriment. Maybe all those inaccurate parodies and mockeries of his intellect and physical facility would not have been so easily rendered if it had not been for his commonness. Some have even contended that the
During my years in
As a lobbyist for Sears, and before gifts to legislators were the subjects of scandal, I recall giving the President an Olympic tie. Sears was the outfitter of the Olympic team that year. After the Olympics were over, Ford returned the tie back to me as a personal memento. It was a tie he wore frequently.
I was also a participant in an incident involving Ford at the 1976 GOP National Convention – an incident in which he most likely never knew of my role. I was there as communications director for the
Apart from the tie and a Frisbee or two, my most cherished Ford possession is a series of three letters in which Ford responded to my congratulations on his ascent to the presidency. The content of the letters, and the fact that they are written on the respective letterheads of the United States Congress, The Vice President and the President, make them cherished documents, personally and historically.
It has not been many years since I have enjoyed his company, but the memories will never dim. I feel grateful as an American to have lived through those difficult times with my friend Jerry Ford at the helm. More personally, I have been most fortunate to have had the pleasure to know such a good and decent human being. Jerry Ford was a giant of a man, but never looked down on anyone. God bless him, and may he rest in the peace of eternity he so well deserves.