President Ford Dies at 93

ByABC News

Dec. 27, 2006 — -- Former President Gerald R. Ford, the nation's only unelected commander in chief, died Tuesday night.

His office did not release a cause of death. He was 93.

Ford, the 38th president of the United States, was a Navy officer, Republican representative, a lawyer and family man, but made his mark on history when he replaced Spiro T. Agnew as vice president in 1973 after Agnew pleaded no contest to income tax evasion.

On Aug. 9, 1974, amid the growing Watergate scandal, President Nixon resigned, leaving the White House to his new but loyal vice president.

Less than a month after taking office, Ford pardoned Nixon, a controversial move that clouded the early months of his presidency, but one he stood behind for the rest of his life.

Ford campaigned to stay in office in 1976, but lost to Jimmy Carter, making his tenure as commander in chief the fifth-shortest in history.

A family representative said Ford's state funeral will begin Friday in California. He will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol over the weekend.

Events will last until Wednesday, when Ford will be interred in a hillside tomb near his presidential museum in his home state of Michigan.

Ford was born Leslie Lynch King Jr., in Omaha, Neb., on July 14, 1913. When he was 2 years old, his parents divorced. His mother moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., and eventually remarried.

Her new husband, a paint salesman, adopted the young boy and renamed him Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr., after himself.

In his memoirs, Ford wrote that he didn't learn that his stepfather was not his biological father until he was 12 or 13, and didn't meet his biological father until he was 17. Their brief conversation left him with the impression that his father was "a carefree, well-to-do man who didn't really give a damn about the hopes and dreams of his firstborn son."

Although the household he grew up in was not exactly well-to-do, Ford described his early life as "secure, orderly and happy."

Ford worked hard in school and graduated in the top 5 percent of his high school class. Both a scholar and sportsman, he won a full athletic scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he was a star football player and considered offers to play professional football for the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.

Instead, he went to work as an assistant football coach and attended Yale Law School. His experience on the field, he would later say, taught him critical life lessons, including how to play fair and obey the rules.

After graduating in the top 25 percent of his law school class, Ford enlisted in the Navy, serving throughout World War II. In 1946, he was discharged as a lieutenant commander.

Following through on a lifelong interest in politics, Ford won a seat in the House of Representatives for Michigan's 5th District with an almost two-thirds majority in 1948.

That same year, he married Elizabeth Bloomer Warren, who went by Betty. The future first lady was a professional dancer who had also worked as a model and fashion coordinator. They had four children, Michael, John, Steven and Susan.

Early in his career, Ford established himself as a loyal Republican and enjoyed a steady rise to power in the House. In 1963, he gained the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference and two years later became minority leader. He held the position for eight years during a time of domestic and international crisis -- an era dominated by civil rights struggles and the Vietnam War.

Ford tried to maintain a positive image for the Grand Old Party in those troubled times, initially supporting President Johnson's policies in Vietnam while also posing conservative alternatives to the president's Great Society programs. Ford eventually withdrew his support of Johnson's Vietnam policy, calling for a more aggressive pursuit of victory in the war.

Above all, Ford became a valuable spokesman during the turbulent Nixon years, demonstrating his party loyalty while voicing support for GOP policies. Ford built on his reputation as a hawk on defense matters. Although he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he was unsympathetic to some civil rights issues.

He fought against expansion of the role of the national government, opposing federal aid to education, including funds for school construction, emergency school aid, and increased appropriations for higher education.

In 1970, he called for the impeachment of the liberal Justice William O. Douglas, alleging that the jurist was guilty of corruption and inappropriate behavior, but the impeachment effort failed.

Ford further proved his commitment to his party and his president with his support for Nixon during the Watergate scandal. The minority leader was steadfastly loyal even after many of his Republican colleagues began distancing themselves from the president after the break-in at Democratic headquarters during the 1972 presidential election.

Given his loyalty, and his personal qualities of geniality and candor, Ford was a popular choice as Nixon's nominee to replace Agnew.

Under the terms of the 25th Amendment, which permits the president to appoint a replacement vice president, various congressional committees conducted confirmation hearings. On Dec. 6, 1973, both houses of Congress confirmed him.

Although Nixon and Ford were never personally close, the new vice president continued to demonstrate his loyalty even as the Watergate scandal reached critical mass. During his eight months as vice president, Ford made roughly 500 public appearances in 40 states, traveling more than 100,000 miles, during which he tirelessly defended Nixon.

Even in August 1974, after the House Judiciary Committee had voted a first article of impeachment against Nixon, Ford continued to condemn the committee action as "partisan." Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, and Ford became president.

Referring to the Watergate scandal, Ford took office telling the American people: "Our long national nightmare is over."

Although his days as president only numbered 895, Ford governed the nation in a difficult period. After the furor surrounding his pardon of Nixon passed, Ford faced a continuing energy crisis, inflation and unemployment, and the fallout of the withdrawal from Vietnam in April 1975.

As president, Ford maintained his conservative ideology and proved his commitment to a free-market economic approach with strong defense and foreign policies. In 1975, he survived two assassination attempts.

But Ford's resolve was met by a hostile Democratic Congress, reluctant to cooperate with Nixon's successor. Ford's brief tenure as president was marked by presidential vetoes and attempted overrides.

Making relations worse with Congress was Ford's quickness to grant Nixon a blanket pardon, in advance, for any crimes he may have committed while in office.

Henry Kissinger, Nixon's secretary of state, continued in that role in the Ford administration and remained a dominant force in U.S. foreign policy. Ford carried on Nixon's efforts to negotiate a second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, and in 1975 he signed the Helsinki Accords with the Soviet Union and 34 other countries on the future of Europe.

Ford sought accommodations with the Soviet Union and China, and helped preserve a tenuous Middle Eastern peace.

Although Ford had been an outstanding student and athlete, his reputation suffered from the devastating lampoons of "Saturday Night Live" comedian Chevy Chase, who portrayed the president as a bumbling klutz who had suffered one too many head injuries while playing football.

Ford originally said he would not run for president, but he changed his mind when the 1976 election season started.

Former California Gov. Ronald Reagan, champion of the Republican right, posed a formidable challenge to the sitting president. Reagan put up a good fight through the 1976 primary season, but Ford won the nomination narrowly at the Republican convention.

In the general election, Ford never closed the narrow gap against Carter of Georgia. He won 39 million popular votes to Carter's 40.8 million, and 240 electoral votes to Carter's 297. At age 63, he left the public stage.

At the 1980 Republican National Convention, his former rival, Reagan, reportedly considered naming Ford as his running mate. But Betty Ford's problems with alcohol and drug addiction dominated public attention at the time. The former first lady was very open about her struggle with substance abuse, and she helped establish the Betty Ford Clinic to help others overcome addictions.

After the White House years, the Fords prospered, moving their primary residence to the Palm Springs, Calif., area while maintaining homes in Vail, Colo., and Los Angeles.

Ford consulted for various businesses, and by the mid-1980s served on the boards of several major companies. In December 1996, Business Week said the former president had amassed a fortune of close to $300 million over the previous two decades.

He continued his involvement in politics, teaming up with former and current presidents and their families to promote various causes and programs while opposing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

In August 1999, President Clinton awarded Ford the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Ford later joined an independent panel with Carter to consider reforms of the American electoral process.

The following year, he suffered a mild stroke while in Philadelphia for the Republican National Convention, where he was honored along with other former Republican presidents.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he attended a service at the National Cathedral in Washington to honor the thousands of people killed when terrorists crashed hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

When Reagan died at the age of 93, Ford joined former Presidents Carter, Clinton and George H.W. Bush at the June 11, 2004, state funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington.

He was last seen in an official capacity when he attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at his alma mater on Nov. 12, 2004.

On Dec. 13, 2005, Ford checked into Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage for medical tests. His publicist Penny Circle said that the president was suffering from a "horrible cold" that he couldn't seem to get over.

Nearly a month later, Ford checked into the same hospital to undergo treatment for pneumonia, according to Circle.

In January he was treated for pneumonia, and in August was hospitalized for an angioplasty and to have a pacemaker implanted.

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