Memories of Working for Gerald Ford

The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 27, 2006; 4:46 PM

DETROIT -- He ate cottage cheese with ketchup nearly every day for lunch, swam in the pool outside his White House study in all kinds of weather, and lived by the same work ethic as president that he was known for all of his life.

President Ford was very much a man of routine, says Dorothy Downton, who joined his congressional staff in 1967 and was his personal secretary while he was vice president and president.

"He was very methodical in his work habits. He would not be able to really relax until his work was done," Downton, now the administrative assistant for The Associated Press in Detroit, said in an interview Wednesday. "He was a very strong individual, and as far as his own work was concerned a very strict individual. He had a very strong work ethic and he continued that, I'm sure, right up until the very end."

Ford combined his usually solitary lunch in his study with catching up on his mail and the news. "He would never just sit back and watch TV or relax. He was always reading something," said Downton, 60.

And at the end of the day, he went for a swim before dinner. "It did not matter if it was raining or snowing ... He would take his daily swim, and the Secret Service would be right out there with him."

Ford, a congressman from Grand Rapids before becoming president, made the most of his time in the White House, Downton said.

"I think he enjoyed being president. I think he did a very good job as president. He certainly used his common sense and his integrity stood him very well," she said.

He also kept his sense of humor, even in the politically tough times that surrounded his presidency. He framed some of the less-than-flattering editorial cartoons about himself and hung them in Downton's office.

"When he would come in to give me something or to ask me something, he would look at one and he would chuckle at it, and he would say `Dorothy do you remember when that happened?' and we would chuckle," she said. "He really did enjoy that. He did not take himself that seriously that he could not laugh."

After Ford left office and moved to California, Downton remained his personal secretary for about four years before moving back to Michigan. They met again when he was in Ann Arbor in November 2004.

"We had a lovely visit," she said, adding that Ford was amused that Downton now works for the AP. "And even when I left that day, being the very gentleman that he was, he stood up and gave me a big hug. I said `You don't need to stand up, you can just sit right here and that's just fine.' He said, 'No no. ... I'm going to stand up for such a nice lady.' He just was a complete gentleman."

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