12/31/06 — A steady hand: Ford led with an everyman’s dedication to doing the right thing

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A steady hand: Ford led with an everyman’s dedication to doing the right thing

He wasn’t what you would call an imposing figure — at least not in most history books.

President Gerald Ford was best remembered as a regular guy — the kind of guy next door who tripped, bumbled and made his way through life.

President Ford really did not deserve the monikker. An accomplished athlete, he was far from clumsy. He was also far from bumbling. He was smart, savvy and a man with convictions that did not ever leave him — even when the easier decision would have been more politically expedient for him.

But in those simple moments of humanity when he tripped or bumbled or let the nation have a glimpse of his home life, Gerald Ford made a nation feel like they knew him — that he was one of them. And the same was true for his wife, Betty, whose courage in the face of addiction and breast cancer helped a nation of women talk about both when no one else was talking.

And that willingness to share — and be one of us — is what makes President Gerald Ford someone to be remembered.

He suffered for his decision to pardon former President Richard Nixon for the Watergate affair. To many in the nation it looked like one hand washing the other — one Republican making a deal with another so he could be president — a charge President Ford vehemently denied.

In reality, he has said, the decision to forgive the sins of his predecessor was the newly appointed president trying to get his nation back on track. It was Gerald Ford trying to be a leader.

And he was right — and he was.

President Ford will be remembered for much more than his hijinks and the now-famous skits that helped launch comedian Chevy Chase’s career.

And he will be honored not just for what he gave the nation as president, but for what he contributed when he was no longer in office — wise counsel and training for many of the leaders who are at the helm today. Respectful of those who came after him, he asked that his comments on the Iraq war be held until after his death — he did not want to undermine the current administration or cause the nation any unnecessary angst. His country came first. That’s just how he was. And that is what made him a man to emulated.

President Gerald Ford will be remembered for the man he was and the decisions he made when they counted. He will be honored because he was one of us — and because he helped us through a time when we weren’t sure about our nation or ourselves.

He won’t have chapters in any history book, but it is likely President Ford would not have wanted that. He will be remembered as we honor those who come into our lives and leave a mark on who we become.

And that is exactly what he did for this nation — help us become who we are today.

That is a contribution that deserves our respect — and a mark of distinction for any leader.

Published in Editorials on December 31, 2006 12:03 AM