Former President Gerald Ford died yesterday at the age of 93. He was the only President I’ve ever met personally.
I was 11 years old and my family had taken a vacation over Christmas break. My stepfather drove us from Tucson to Long Island in December of 1975. On our cross country drive back to Tucson we stopped in Washington, D.C. A visit to the White House was definitely in order. At the time, I barely had an idea who the President was and no clue of a definition of politics. But I did know that the country had gone through this thing called “Watergate.” All I remember was how boring all this political stuff was.
I was quite excited that winter day as a guide shepherded us through the various rooms of the White House. At one point during the tour, we came to a long hallway off the West Wing. The hallway was roped off and the guide told us that if we waited a moment we might see the President come out of a meeting. All the children were told to come to the head of the line. Suddenly, people began coming out of a room down the hallway and there he was, the President of the United States, Gerald Ford. There was a hush over the tour that caught the President’s attention as he was about to walk away. He turned and faced the crowd and smiled. The next thing I remember he was standing in front of all us children shaking our hands and asking where we were all from. I yelled out Tucson and he acknowledged, “Tucson?” It was a short meet and greet but it was my intersection with the Presidency and I never forgot it.
President Ford was not a strong conservative but he was a Republican who tried to get the country back on track after a terrible war and national scandal. He also gave us Jimmy Carter which ultimately set the future for one of the greatest Presidents, Ronald Reagan.
President Gerald Ford’s legacy will not be great and I cannot see him as a great President. He was simply a Republican leader seeking to fix a mess and heal public confidence. I think he started us down that path but it would not come to fruition until 1981. At this time, my prayers are with his family.