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Ford, Nixon Sustained Friendship for Decades

Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, shown in October 1973, were friends as much as political allies.
Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, shown in October 1973, were friends as much as political allies. (United Press International)

At times, their friendship was the gossipy sort, as two longtime politicians sorted through the Washington rumor mill. They were so comfortable with each other that they openly traded nasty personal assessments of others.

On April 6, 1971, for example, Nixon called Ford to find out what was going on with House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (D-La.). Boggs had just taken to the House floor alleging that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was regularly wiretapping members of Congress, and Nixon wanted to know why Boggs was going public.

"He's nuts," Ford told Nixon in the call picked up by Nixon's secret taping.

"He's on the sauce," Nixon said, suggesting the majority leader was drinking. "Isn't that it?"

"Well, I'm afraid that's right, Mr. President."

"Or is he crazy?" Nixon asked.

"Well, he's either drinking too much or he's taking some pills that are upsetting him mentally," Ford replied.

In their personal correspondence, extending over decades, the two men conveyed a sense of personal bond that went beyond public niceties, demonstrated in dozens of letters in Ford's confidential files that he allowed a reporter to review and copy.

Two months before Nixon resigned, he sent Ford, by then his vice president, a personal thank-you. "Dear Jerry," he wrote on June 8, 1974, "this is just a note to tell you how much I appreciated your superb and courageous support over the past difficult months. How much easier it would be for you to pander to the press and others who desperately are trying to drive a wedge between the president and vice president. It's tough going now, but history will I am sure record you as one of the most capable, courageous and honorable vice presidents we have had."

Their friendly notes to each other continued until not long before Nixon's death in 1994. In 1978, for example, Nixon wrote to buck up Ford after Ford's former press secretary wrote a tell-all memoir, "It Sure Looks Different From the Inside," in which he gave details of Betty Ford's addiction to alcohol and various medications. "Dear Jerry, I thought Ron Nessen's comments on Betty were contemptible. Tell Betty her many friends won't believe him and for her few enemies -- The hell with them. Sincerely, Dick."

And in a handwritten letter on his personal stationery on June 1, 1990, Nixon wrote Ford urging him to attend the dedication of the Nixon library along with then-President George H.W. Bush and former president Ronald Reagan. Once Ford came, Nixon followed up with another note: "Our friendship goes back further than all the others and the event would not have been complete without you."

On June 28, 1993, Nixon wrote Ford again, this time thanking him for attending the funeral of Nixon's wife, Pat.

"As you undoubtedly noted, the emotion had caught up with me by the time we met after the services, and I did not adequately express my thanks to you then," Nixon wrote.

Then he turned back decades, to their own long friendship and a small gesture by Ford he had carried with him, not as momentous as the pardon that would come later but still vivid 31 years after it happened.

"One action of yours for which I will always be grateful was your going on a TV program when ABC had the bad manners to put Alger Hiss on to nail my coffin shut after my defeat for governor of California," Nixon wrote, remembering the sting of his 1962 loss.

"I have often said that when you win, you hear from everyone -- when you lose, you hear from your friends," he wrote. "You have always measured up in that respect, and I shall always be grateful."

Christine Parthemore contributed to this report.

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