A man of integrity, honesty, and fairness, Ford took office in the wake of the Nixon scandal, and his presence in the Oval Office brought sighs of relief from the American people. Although he did cause quite a stir when he started off his term by pardoning Nixon's many crimes, he is remembered today as the man who forgave and forgot and encouraged the nation to do the same. In fact, his decision to pardon Nixon later won him the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2001.
Born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., in 1913, Ford grew up in Omaha, NE. His parents, who divorced five months after his birth, were Leslie Lynch King, Sr., and Dorothy Ayer Gardner. Gardner later married Gerald Rudolff Ford and decided to change her son's name. She went on to have three sons with her second husband, and Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, MI, with his mother, stepfather, and three half-brothers.
When Ford was of age to attend college, he chose the University of Michigan, where he played center for the university's football team. Upon graduation, he declined several offers from professional football teams, including the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. Then he packed his bags and headed off to Yale Law School.
Upon graduation from law school in 1941, Ford joined the military and served until 1946. Two years later, Ford married Elizabeth Bloomer Warren, or Betty, as most know her. The ceremony was held at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids. Warren, who had previously been married and divorced, worked as a fashion consultant. She would later become famous for voicing her opinion with boldness on touchy issues such as premarital sex and the Equal Rights Amendment. During their marriage, the couple had four children together.
Ford went on to become a member of the House of Representatives, where he remained for 24 years. In 1973, when Spiro Agnew, who was Vice President at the time, resigned, Nixon nominated Ford for consideration. Both the Senate and the House voted, and in December of the same year, Ford became Vice President. However, he didn't stay Vice President for long. In August of 1974, Nixon resigned, and Ford took his place as President of the United States.
After two years in the Oval Office, Ford rallied his enthusiasm and ran against Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election, something he was somewhat hesitant to do. He gave it his best shot, and he even won the first presidential debate of the election, which was the first presidential debate since 1960. When the votes were counted, he only received 240 electoral votes, and Carter won with 297. Carter's win, however, did not prevent the two men from forging a friendship later in life; as recently as 2001, Ford and Carter served together on the National Commission on Federal Election Reform.
Ford, who began to experience health problems in 2000, suffered a series of small strokes during the Republican National Convention of that year. He was hospitalized again in 2004 with pneumonia, after which he and Betty became somewhat private and were not seen as often.
A man of truth and values, Ford may have been an unexpected leader, but he was definitely not an unappreciated one. In a written statement made by President Bush on the day after Ford's death, Bush praised Ford's character and the many things he did for the country—both big and small—during his short time in the White House.
"With his quiet integrity, common sense, and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the presidency," Bush said. "The American people will always admire Gerald Ford's devotion to duty, his personal character, and the honorable conduct of his administration."
It was Ford's request to have a state funeral and to be buried on the site of his presidential museum in Grand Rapids, MI.