Remarks Delivered at Ford's Funeral at the National Cathedral
Tuesday, January 2, 2007; 12:17 PM
JANUARY 2, 2007
SPEAKERS: FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE H. W. BUSH
FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HENRY KISSINGER
JOURNALIST TOM BROKAW PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: As the story goes, Gerald Ford was a newly minted candidate for the United States House of Representatives in June of 1948.
When he made plans for the reporter to visit the dairy farmers in western Michigan's congressional district -- First Congressional District -- Fifth -- sorry -- it was pouring rain that particular day, and neither the journalist nor the farmers had expected the upstart candidate to keep his appointment. And yet he showed up on time because, he explained to the journalists, "They milk cows every day, and besides that, I promised."
Long before he arrived in Washington, Gerald Ford's word was good. During the three decades of public service that followed his arrival in our nation's capital, time and again he would step forward and keep his promise, even when the dark clouds of political crisis gathered over America.
After a deluded gunman assassinated President Kennedy, our nation turned to Gerald Ford and a select handful of others to make sense of that madness. And the conspiracy theorists can say what they will, but the Warren Commission report will always have the final, definitive say on this tragic matter. Why? Because Jerry Ford put his name on it, and Jerry Ford's word was always good.
A decade later, when scandal forced a vice president from office, President Nixon turned to the minority leader in the House to stabilize his administration because of Jerry Ford's sterling reputation for integrity within the Congress.
To political ally and adversary alike, Jerry Ford's word was always good.
And, of course, when the lie that was Watergate was finally laid bare, once again we entrusted our future and our hopes to this good man. The very sight of Chief Justice Berger administering the oath of office to our 38th president instantly restored the honor of the Oval Office and helped America begin to turn the page on one of our saddest chapters.
As Americans, we generally eschew notions of the indispensable man, and yet during those traumatic times, few, if any, of our public leaders, could have stepped into the breach and rekindled our national faith as did President Gerald R. Ford.
History has a way of matching man and moment. And just as President Lincoln's stubborn devotion to our Constitution kept the union together during the Civil War, and just as FDR's optimism was the perfect antidote to the despair of a great depression, so, too, can we say that Jerry Ford's decency was the ideal remedy for the deception of Watergate.
For this and for so much more, his presidency will be remembered as a time of healing in our land. In fact, when President Ford was choosing a title for his memoirs, he chose words from the book of Ecclesiastes.
Here was the verse: "To everything there is a season and time, to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance."
He acknowledged that he was no saint. To know Jerry was to know a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. An avuncular figure, quick to smile, frequently with his pipe in his mouth.
He could be tough. He could be tough as nails when the situation warranted. But he also had a heart as big and as open as the Midwest plains on which he was born. And he imbued every life he touched with his understated gentility.
When we served together in the House of Representatives years ago, I watched, from the back bench, I watched this good man. And even from way back there, I could see the sterling leadership qualities of Jerry Ford.
And later, after I followed his footsteps into the Oval Office, he was always supportive.
On the lighter side, Jerry and I shared a common love of golf and also a reputation for suspect play before large crowds.
"I know I'm playing better golf," President Ford once reported to friends, "because I'm hitting fewer spectators."
He had a wonderful sense of humor, and even took it in stride when Chevy Chase had to make the entire world think that this terrific, beautifully coordinated athlete was actually a stumbler. Ford says it was funny. He wrote that in his memoir.
I remember that lesson well, since being able to laugh at yourself is essential in public life. I'd tell you more about that, but as Dana Carvey would say, "Not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent."
In the end, we are all God's children. And on this bittersweet day, we can take solace that the Lord has come and taken this good man by the hand and led him home to heaven.
It is plain to see how the hand of providence spared Jerry in World War II and, later, against two assassination attempts. And for that, we give thanks.
It is just as plain to see how the same hand directed this good man to lead a life of noble purpose, a life filled with challenge and accomplishment, a life indelibly marked by honor and integrity. And today we give thanks for that, too.
May Almighty God bless the memory of Gerald R. Ford, keep him firm in the hearts of his countrymen, and may God bless his wonderful family.
KISSINGER: According to an ancient tradition, God preserves humanity despite its many transgressions, because at any one period there exist 10 just individuals who, without being aware of their role, redeem mankind.
Gerald Ford was such a man.
Propelled into the presidency by a sequence of unpredictable events, he had an impact so profound as rightly to be consider providential.
Unassuming and without guile, Gerald Ford undertook to restore the confidence of Americans in their political institutions and purposes.
Never having aspired to national office, he was not consumed by driving ambition. In his understated way, he did his duty as a leader, not as a performer playing to the gallery.
Gerald Ford had the virtues of small-town America: sincerity, serenity and integrity.
As it turned out, the absence of glibness and his artless (ph) decency became a political asset, fostering an unusual closeness to leaders around the world, which continued long after he left office.
In recent days, the deserved commentary on Gerald Ford's character has sometimes obscured how sweeping and lasting were his achievements.
KISSINGER: Gerald Ford's prudence and common sense kept ethnic conflicts in Cyprus and Lebanon from spiraling into regional war.
He presided over the final agony of Indochina with dignity and wisdom.
In the Middle East, his persistence produced the first political agreement between Israel and Egypt.
He helped shape the final act of the European Security Conference, which established an internationally recognized standard for human rights, now generally accepted as having hastened the collapse of the former Soviet empire.
He sparked the initiative to bring majority rule to Southern Africa, a policy that was a major factor in ending colonialism there.
In his presidency, the International Energy Agency was established, which still fosters cooperation among oil-consuming nations.
Gerald Ford was one of the founders of the continuing Annual Economic Summit among the industrial democracies.
Throughout his 29 months in office, he persisted in conducting negotiations with our principal adversary over the reduction and control of nuclear arms.
Gerald Ford was always driven by his concern for humane values.
He stumped me in his fifth day in office when he used the first calling-in (ph) by the Soviet ambassador to intervene on behalf of a Lithuanian seaman who, four years earlier, had, in a horrible bungle, been turned over to Soviet authorities after seeking asylum in America.
Against all diplomatic precedent and, I must say, against the advice of all experts, Gerald Ford requested that the seaman, a Soviet citizen in a Soviet jail, not only be released but be turned over to American custody. Even more amazingly, his request was granted.
Throughout the final ordeal of Indochina, Gerald Ford focused on America's duty to rescue the maximum number of those who had relied on us. The extraction of 150,000 refugees was the consequence.
And, typically, Gerald Ford saw it as his duty to visit one of the refugee camps long after public attention had moved elsewhere.
Gerald Ford summed up his concern for human values at the European Security Conference. When looking directly at Brezhnev, he proclaimed America's deep devotion to human rights and individual freedoms. "To my country," he said, "they are not cliches or empty phrases."
Historians will debate for a long time over which president contributed most to victory in the Cold War. Few will dispute that the Cold War could not have been won had not Gerald Ford emerged at a tragic period to restore equilibrium to America and confidence in its international role.
Sustained by his beloved wife, Betty, and to the children to whom he was devoted, Gerald Ford left the presidency with no regrets, no second-guessing, no obsessive pursuit of his place in history.
For his friends, he leaves an aching void. Having known Jerry Ford and worked with him will be our badge of honor for the rest of our lives.
Early in his administration, Gerald Ford said to me, "I get mad as hell, but I don't show it, when I don't do as well as I should. If you don't strive for the best, you will never make it."
We are here to bear witness that Jerry Ford always did his best, and that his best proved essential to renew our society and restore hope to the world.
BROKAW: Mrs. Ford, members of the Ford family, President and Mrs. Bush, Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, President and Mrs. Bush, President and Mrs. Carter, President and Mrs. Clinton, distinguished guests, my fellow Americans, it's a great privilege and an honor for me to be here.
For the past week we have been hearing the familiar lyrics of the hymns to the passing of a famous man, the hosannas to his decency, to his honesty, to his modesty and his "steady as she goes" qualities. It's what we've come to expect on these occasions.
But this time there was extra value, for, in the case of Gerald Ford, these lyrics have the added virtue of being true.
Sometimes there are two versions to these hymns, one public and one private, separate and discordant. But in Gerald Ford, the man he was in public, he was also that man in private.
Gerald Ford brought to the political arena no demons, no hidden agenda, no hit-list or acts of vengeance. He knew who he was, and he didn't require consultants or gurus to change him.
Moreover, the country knew who he was, and despite occasional differences, large and small, it never lost its affection for this man from Michigan, the football player, the lawyer and the veteran, the congressman and suburban husband, the champion of Main Street values, who brought all of those qualities to the White House.
Once there, he stayed true to form, never believing that he was suddenly wiser and infallible because he drank his morning coffee from a cup with the presidential seal.
He didn't seek the office. And yet, as he told his friend, the late, great journalist, Hugh Sidey, he was not frightened of the task before him.
We could identify with him, all of us, for so many reasons. Among them, we were all trapped in what passed for style in the '70s.
With a wardrobe with lapels out to here, white belts, plaid jackets, and trousers so patterned that they would give you a migraine.
The rest of us have been able to destroy most of the evidence of our fashion meltdown.
But presidents are not so lucky. Those David Kennerly photographs are reminders of his endearing qualities, but some of those jackets -- I think that they're eligible for a presidential pardon or least a digital touch-up.
As a journalist, I was especially grateful for his appreciation of our role, even when we challenged his policies and taxed his patience with our constant presence and persistence. We could be adversaries, but we were never his enemy, and that was a welcome change in status from his predecessor's time.
To be a member of the Gerald Ford White House press corps brought other benefits well, as we documented a nation and a world in transition, in turmoil.
We accompanied him to audiences with the notorious and the merely powerful. We saw Tito; Franco; Saddat; Marcos; Suharto; the shah of Iran; the emperor of Japan; China with Mao Zedong, Chou En-lai and Deng Xiaoping all at once; what was then the Soviet Union, and Vladivostok with Leonid Brezhnev; and Helsinki, one of the most remarkable gatherings of leaders in the 20th century.
There were other advantages of being a member of his press corps that we didn't advertise quite as widely. We want to Vail at Christmas and Palm Springs at Eastertime with our families.
BROKAW: Now, cynics might argue that contributed to our affection for him. That is not a premise that I wish to challenge.
One of our colleagues, Jim Naughton of the New York Times, personified the spirit that existed in the relationship. He bought from a San Diego radio station promoter a large, mock chicken head that had attracted the president's attention at the GOP rally.
And then, giddy from 20-hour days and an endless repetition of the same campaign speech, Naughton decided to wear that chicken head to a Ford news conference in Oregon, with the enthusiastic encouragement of the president and his chief of staff, Dick Cheney.
In the next news cycle, the chicken head was a bigger story than the president, and no one was more pleased than the man that we honor here today in this august ceremony.
When the president called me last year and asked me if I would participate in these services, I think he wanted to be sure that the White House press corps was represented: the writers, correspondents and producers, the cameramen, photographers, the technicians -- and the chicken.
He also brought something else to the White House, of course. He brought the humanity that comes with a family that seemed to be living right next door.
He was every parent when he said, "My children have spoken for themselves since they were old enough to speak, and not always with my approval. I expect that to continue in the future."
And was there a more supportive husband in America than when his beloved Betty began to speak out on issues that were not politically correct at the time?
Together, they put on the front pages and in the lead of the evening news casts the issues that had been underplayed in America for far too long.
My colleague, Bob Schieffer, called him the nicest man he ever met in politics. To that, I would only add the most underestimated.
In many ways, I believe football is a metaphor for his life in politics and after. He played in the middle of the line. He was a center, a position that seldom receives much praise, but he had his hands on the ball for every play, and no play could start without him.
BROKAW: And when the game was over and others received the credit, he didn't whine or whimper.
But then he came from a generation accustomed to difficult missions, shaped by the sacrifices and the deprivations of the Great Depression, a generation that gave up its innocence and youth to then win a great war and save the world.
And when Gerald Ford and that generation came home from war, they were mature beyond their years and eager to make the world they had saved a better place.
They re-enlisted as citizens and set out to serve their country in new ways, with political differences, but always with a common goal of doing what's best for the nation and all the people.
When he entered the Oval Office, by faith, not by design, Citizen Ford knew that he was not perfect, just as he knew he was not perfect when he left. But what president ever was? But he was prepared, because he had served his country every day of his adult life and he left the Oval Office a much better place.
The personal rewards of his citizenship and his presidency were far richer than he had anticipated in every sense of the phrase. But the greatest rewards of Jerry Ford's time were reserved for his fellow Americans and the nation he loved.
Farewell, Mr. President. Thank you, Citizen Ford.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Mr. Ford, the Ford family, distinguished guests, including our presidents and first ladies, and our fellow citizens, we are here today to say goodbye to a great man.
Gerald Ford was born and reared in the American heartland. He belonged to a generation that measured men by their honesty and their courage.
He grew to manhood under the roof of a loving mother and father. And when times were tough, he took part-time jobs to help them out.
In President Ford, the world saw the best of America, and America found a man whose character and leadership would bring calm and healing to one of the most divisive moments in our nation's history.
Long before he was known in Washington, Gerald Ford showed his character and his leadership.
As a star football player for the University of Michigan, he came face to face with racial prejudice. When Georgia Tech came to Ann Arbor for a football game, one of Michigan's best player was an African-American student named Willis Ward. Georgia Tech said they would not take the field if a black man were allowed to play.
Gerald Ford was furious at Georgia Tech for making the demand and for the University of Michigan for caving in. He agreed to play only after Willis Ward personally asked him to.
The stand Gerald Ford took that day was never forgotten by his friend. And Gerald Ford never forgot that day either. And three decades later, he proudly supported the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the United States Congress.
Gerald Ford showed his character in the devotion to his family. On the day he became president, he told the nation, "I am indebted to no man and only to one woman, my dear wife."
By then, Betty Ford had a pretty good idea of what marriage to Gerald Ford involved. After all, their wedding had taken place less than three weeks before his first election to the United States Congress. And his idea of a honeymoon was driving to Ann Arbor with his bride so they could attend a brunch before the Michigan- Northwestern game the next day.
And that was the beginning of a great marriage.
The Fords would have four fine children. And Steve, Jack, Mike and Susan know that, as proud as their dad was of being president, Gerald Ford was even prouder of the other titles he held: father and grandfather and great-grandfather.
Gerald Ford showed his character in the uniform of our country. When Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941, Gerald Ford was an attorney fresh out of Yale Law School. But when his nation called, he did not hesitate.
In early 1942, he volunteered for the Navy, and after receiving his commission, worked hard to get assigned to a ship headed into combat.
Eventually, his wish was granted, and Lieutenant Ford was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Monterey, which saw action in some of the biggest battles of the Pacific.
Gerald Ford showed his character in public office. As a young congressman, he earned a reputation for an ability to get along with others without compromising his principles. He was greatly admired by his colleagues, and they trusted him a lot.
And so when President Nixon needed to replace a vice president who had resigned in scandal, he naturally turned to a man whose name was a synonym for integrity: Gerald R. Ford.
And eight months later when he was elevated to the presidency, it was because America needed him, not because he needed the office.
President Ford assumed office at a terrible time in our nation's history. At home, America was divided by political turmoil and wracked by inflation. In Southeast Asia, Saigon fell just nine months into his presidency.
Amid all the turmoil, Gerald Ford was a rock of stability. And when he put his hand on his family Bible to take the presidential oath of office, he brought grace to a moment of great doubt.
In a short time, the gentleman from Grand Rapids proved that behind the affability was firm resolve.
When a U.S. ship called the Mayaguez was seized by Cambodia, President Ford made the tough decision to send in the Marines, and all the crew members were rescued.
He was criticized for signing the Helsinki Accords, yet history has shown that document helped bring down the Soviet Union as courageous men and women behind the Iron Curtain used it to demand their God-given liberties.
Twice assassins attempted to take the life of this good and decent man, yet he refused to curtail his public appearances.
And when he thought that the nation needed to put Watergate behind us, he made the tough and decent decision to pardon President Nixon, even though that decision probably cost him the presidential election.
Gerald Ford assumed the presidency when the nation needed a leader of character and humility, and we found it in the man from Grand Rapids.
President Ford's time in office was brief, but history will long remember the courage and common sense that helped restore trust in the workings of our democracy.
Laura and I had the honor of hosting the Ford family for Gerald Ford's 90th birthday. It's one of the highlights of our time in the White House.
I will always cherish the memory of the last time I saw him, this past year in California. He was still smiling, still counting himself lucky to have Betty at his side, and still displaying the optimism and generosity that made him one of America's most beloved leaders.
And so on behalf of a grateful nation, we bid farewell to our 38th president. We thank the Almighty for Gerald Ford's life, and we ask for God's blessings on Gerald Ford and his family.
Jan 02, 2007 12:04 ET .EOF
Source: CQ Transcriptions
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