ABC News Remembers Gerald Ford

Dec. 27, 2006 — -- President Ford, who died Tuesday night at the age of 93, will be remembered as a president with a great sense of humor and a lot of integrity, ABC News anchors and correspondents said today on "Good Morning America."

"He was also a transitional president," said "World News" anchor Charlie Gibson. "He transitioned this country from a time of great angst and anger. … [Watergate] was the first time that the public realized that public officials can lie to you."

Ford was appointed vice president when Spiro Agnew resigned after he pleaded no contest to tax evasion, and then assumed the office of president when Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace after the Watergate scandal.

"People distrusted Washington, and Gerry Ford came in as a very decent man," Gibson said.

Ford angered the public, however, when he pardoned former President Nixon, ABC News' Sam Donaldson said.

His approval ratings "plummeted," Donaldson said. "Some people thought there was a deal."

Ford, however, went before Congress to defend his decision.

Later, however, he was presented with the Profiles in Courage award at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in May 2001 for his pardon of Nixon.

"It was an amazing moment," said Richard Norton Smith, an ABC News consultant and former director of the Ford Presidential Library. "Gerald Fold lived long enough to see a sea change take place. … It took a long time … to see that as a necessary and courageous act."

Ford was an exceptional athlete, even receiving offers from professional football teams, which he turned down to go to law school.

"His health was not bad until the last year or so," Smith said. "In some ways … I think he felt guilty in his early career in Congress -- he was on the road so much. … But I think he made up for that."

"He often said that his life was richly blessed. … [He and his wife, Betty,] had 58 years together, and that's a wonderful love story."

Defeating an economic recession and cutting the unemployment rate in half were some of the high points of Ford's administration, Smith said.

"If you have a variable-rate home mortgage today, you owe it to the Ford administration," he said, calling Ford "a great champion of economic deregulation."

As time went on, the former president became concerned about the intense divides currently in Washington, according to ABC News Washington Correspondent Cokie Roberts.

"The fact that he and President [Jimmy] Carter became such friends [after running against each other] is emblematic of the kind of civility that he brought to Washington," Roberts said. "There was a sense of friendship … that does not exist today, and President Ford was very concerned about it because he felt like Washington couldn't exist without it."

Ford was also known for his sense of humor, Gibson said.

"He was the regular guy president," he said.

Chevy Chase became nationally known for poking fun at Ford's perceived clumsiness, Donaldson said, but Ford took the ribbing good-naturedly.

Ford will be buried at the Gerald Ford Museum and Presidential Library in Grand Rapids, Mich.

He will lie in repose at his church in Palm Springs, Calif., and then will later lie in state in Washington. A schedule of services for the former president is expected to be released later today.

President Bush last visited Ford in April. The Bush administration had several ties to Ford.

Both Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld served in Ford's administration.

Of the three men, Cheney remained the closest to Ford, recently describing him as a "man of deep character consumed only with doing what is right."