Gerald Ford, the nation's 38th president, was the accidental president, the only president neither elected to the office nor the vice presidency, died at 6:45 p.m. yesterday. He was 93.
Ford was elected as a Michigan Republican Congressman 13 times before being appointed vice- president on December 6, 1973, two months after Spiro Agnew pleaded no contest to a tax evasion charge and resigned. Ford was the first vice president appointed under the 25th amendment to the Constitution.
Ford was the longest living former president, surpassing Ronald Reagan, who also died at 93, by more than a month.
Ford became president when President Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, to begin "that process of healing which is so desperately needed in America:"
"My fellow Americans," Ford said, "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."
I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your president by your ballots. So I ask you to confirm me with your prayers.
President Ford's approval rating reached 71 percent. The high approval rating only lasted a month.
On September 8, Ford granted Nixon a full pardon for all federal crimes he had "committed or may have committed" when he was in the White House.
Opinion polls showed a large majority of Americans opposed the pardon. It was denounced in Congress, including by members of Ford's own party. By January 1975, his approval rating had plummeted to 36 percent. But an ABC News poll taken in 2002,,30 years after the Watergate break-in found that 60 percent said the pardon was the right thing to do.
President Ford vetoed 66 bills in his barely two years as president. Congress overturned 12 Ford vetoes, more than for any president since Andrew Johnson.
Ford survived two attempts on his life in September 1975. Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a 26-year-old follower of Charles Manson, was arrested after she aimed a semiautomatic pistol at Ford on Sept. 5 in Sacramento, Calif. A Secret Service agent grabbed her and Ford was unhurt. Seventeen days later, Sara Jane Moore, a 45-year-old political activist, was arrested in San Francisco after she fired a gun at the president. Again, Ford was unhurt.
Ford was an adequate student, an outstanding football player and an Eagle Scout. He played center on the University of Michigan's 1932 and 1933 national champion football teams. He got professional offers from the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers, but chose to study law at Yale, working his way through as an assistant varsity football coach and freshman boxing coach.
During World War II Ford joined the Navy and spent 47 months on active duty. He left the Navy in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant commander.
Ford was the last surviving member of the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
Rest in Peace.
Photos Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library