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Gerald R. Ford: This Man of Character

Staff Reports

Editor’s note: The following is a birthday tribute to President Gerald R. Ford Jr., who turns 90 on July 14He was born on July 14, 1913in a place he barely lived ingiven a name he barely used.His step-father, Gerald R. Ford, Sr.,adopted him and gave him his namewith Junior attached to it.But there was nothing junior about this man.This man of character.At the University of Michigan,he learned to eat dirtas a football star for the Wolverines.At Yale he learned the lawand graduated in the year 1941.The year the nation went to war.And so did he.This man of character.He served in the Pacificnearly losing his life in akiller typhoon of 1944.But he survived, as he always would,and mustered out of the Navyin 1946 as a lieutenant commander.This man of character.1948 was the defining year.He ran for office Republican congressman from Michigan and won, launching a career of nearlythree decades of public service.But more important than winning the electionwas winning the hand of Elizabeth Anne Bloomerhis partner for life. This &quotBetty&quot was a dancer,model, mother, leader, and confidante to this man of character.Twenty-five is an eternity to serve in congress.More daunting to be named House minority leader.More daunting still to be named 40th vice president of these United States at a time when the nation was rent asunder by an infamous word: Watergate.He lived that word every day.He lived it while serving the nation quietly,valiantly as the White House came under siege.When on August 9, 1974, the president,his president, our president resigned, he becamethe 38th president of these United States.And this man of character proclaimed:My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher power, by whatever name we honor it, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.But there was no mercy shown to this man,this man of character.As there was no mercy for Betty.Instead, there was a lump.That’s all it takes, a lump,to alter your existence.The doctors said &quotemergency surgery.&quotHe and Betty agreed. And he cried.&quotAll my tensions and fearspoured out in a brief flood of tears&quotsaid this man of character.And, with his support, she won.She won the battleand provided leadershipto millions of womenwho were now emboldened to gothrough the exams, the tests, the waiting,the threat or the relief.Thirty days.Over the next 30 daysthe nation unraveled.Some cried &quotImpeach!&quotOthers cried &quotMercy.&quotOnly one man, a man of character,could hold it together.And he said:&quotIn this situation I am the final authority.There have been no charges madethere has been no action by the courts,there has been no action by any jury.And until any legal process has been undertaken,I think it is unwise and untimely to make anycommitment.&quot&quotI make the final decision.And until it gets to me,I make no commitmentone way or the other.&quotOn September 8he made the commitment.He said, in the end,&quotit is not the ultimate fate of one man that concerns me&quotbut rather &quotthe immediate future of this great country.&quotAnd with the power vested in him, he issued&quota full, free, and absolute pardon&quot for his predecessor.Which meant hostility and censurefor this man, this man of character.A half-world away,the war that was hellthat was Vietnamthat was death for 57,000 Americanswas finally, painfully ending.But not so the festering wounds.Time healsbut time was a luxury he feltthe country could not afford.So one week after the pardon,he announced a conditional amnesty programfor those who evaded the draft or deserted.The left wing cried &quotno conditions&quot andthe right wing screamed &quotno leniency&quot at this man.This man of character.Six months later,as chaos reigned in Saigonand the maddened crowd looked for escapeany escape from this hellhe announced an airlift of the last Americans.But the critics howled; no more refugees.So he appealed to the people, his fellow Americans,and 120,00 Vietnamese came to these same shoresas millions of refugees had come before them.Because of this man. This man of character.Suddenly, from out of nowhereA shot was fired at the President.In the same month a second assassin took aim.But this man was made of sterner stuffthis man of character.As the war ended,the war-time economy was in shambles.Hyper-inflation was followed by hyper-unemploymentthe highest since the Depression.And the critics blamed this man.This man of character.In his autobiography he called this time&quotA Time to Heal.&quotAnd that’s what he did.He healed a nation this man, this man of character.Healing is his legacy.Not only Watergate and VietnamBut for a little-known woundthat was 50 years oldbut with roots 7 centuries old.From the 1300s, a small band of aborigines– ‘people of the blue green waters’ lived in grand canyon.For all of their historyfor 35 generationsthey lived in harmony with the land.But the great white fathercoveted their canyon to turn it into a parkcalled the Grand Canyon.And so these peoplewho had lived on the land for 700 yearssaw their home shrivel from 2 million acresto less than a-tenth that size.And so they prayed,they prayed for a man of character.And the Chief White Father respondedAs he always responded to wounds needing healing.On January 4, 1975, he signed Public Law 93-620which restored the largest amount of land ever to a single tribe.Few know or care about this act.Except for the 1300-year old ‘people of the blue green waters.’This was the right thing to doand this was a good thing to do.And he is the right manand he is a good man,this Gerald R. Ford, Jr.,this man of character.By Paul Kuzniar 2003


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