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Fact sheet Remembering President Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006)

Ron Nessen
Ron Nessen
Press Secretary to President Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)

January 3, 2007

Ron Nessen
Ron Nessen, White House Press Secretary to the late President Gerald R. Ford, answered questions on Good afternoon. On the day of the funeral and burial of President Ford in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, I'm pleased to have been asked to answer your questions about Gerald Ford, the man and the President. So, let's get started.

Dan, from Bethpage writes:
How did President Ford cope with much of the Criticism of the Nixon Pardon and his Portrayal on Saturday Night Live.

Ron Nessen
He was sure that the pardon of President Nixon was the right thing to do for two reasons: He and his staff were spending 25 percent of their time on left-over Nixon matters and he needed to devote full-time to the problems facing the nation. And he believed an investigation and trial of Richard Nixon would further divide the country at a time when unity was important. History has proved his judgment was correct. Eventually, he won the Profiles in Courage Award from the Kennedy family for the pardon decision.

Michael, from Powell, Tn writes:
What do you believe was President Ford's greatest accomplishment as President? Thank you.

Ron Nessen
Restoring public confidence in the White House and the presidency after the years of division and discord caused by Lyndon Johnson's conduct of the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon's involvement in Watergate.

Sergei, from Pennsburg, PA writes:
Newsman Tom Brokaw places his hand on the casket of former President Gerald W. Ford, as he makes his way to the lectern to deliver his remarks during the State Funeral service Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2007, at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. White House photo by Eric Draper How did the President Ford dealt with White House media. Did he have any resentment to reporters or he enjoyed the spotlight?

Ron Nessen
President Ford had many personal friends in the press corps -- Tom DeFrank, now of the NY Daily News, the late Hugh Sidey of Time magazine, Maggie Hunter of the NY Times, Phil Jones of CBS, etc. In fact, shortly before his death, he personally phoned Tom Brokaw, the NBC News anchor who was the network's White House correspondent during Ford's presidency, and asked him to deliver one of the eulogies at his funeral. Which is not to say that he wasn't occasionally irritated by some news story. However, President Ford understood and respected what reporters did and the role of a free press in our democratic society.

Blake, from NA writes:
Who became the vice president when Gerald Ford took the office of Presidency?

Ron Nessen
Nelson Rockefeller. And then Bob Dole was the vice presidential candidate when Ford ran for president in 1976.

Jennifer, from Poway, Calif. writes:
I heard that President Ford didn't live in the White House when he first took office while the Nixons moved out. Is that true? If so, where did he and Mrs. Ford live and how did they commute? Did the press respect their privacy and security outside the walls of the White House?

Ron Nessen
It took the Nixon family about five days to move out of the White House. And then another five days went by while the second-floor living quarters were repainted and the Ford's belongings were moved in. During those 10 days, the President and Mrs. Ford and their children Susan, Jack, and Steve continued to live in their colonial-style suburban house on Crown View Drive in Alexandria, Virginia.

Melissa, from Ridgeway, WI writes:
President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush meet with Mrs. Betty Ford Monday, Jan. 1, 2007, at the Blair House in Washington, D.C. Services will be held Monday at the National Cathedral for former President Gerard R. Ford, who died Dec. 26, 2006, in California. White House photo by Eric Draper From my nine year old niece: Where did the Ford family stay while in Washington DC for President Ford's funeral?

Ron Nessen
President and Mrs. Bush invited the Ford family to stay at Blair House across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

Nancy, from Los Angeles writes:
What is the middle name of President Gerald R. Ford?

Ron Nessen

Paul, from Sydney, Australia writes:
Accompanied by seven White House Press Secretaries, President George W. Bush jokes with reporters Wednesday, August 2, 2006, during the last day of operation of the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room before it undergoes a renovation. On stage with the President are, from left: Joe Lockhart, Dee Dee Myers, Marlin Fitzwater, Tony Snow, Ron Nessen, James Brady and his wife Sarah Brady. White House photo by Shealah Craighead Was the famous White House Press Secretary flak jacket around in 1974...if so what message did you leave in it... if it wasnt around, what message would you leave in it today if you had the chance?

Ron Nessen
While I was press secretary, some reporters gave me a blue-brocade vest which had a bullet-proof lining. This was a joke gift to protect me from all the flak I was catching at my briefings. I left it behind in the closet in the press secretary's office for my successor Jody Powell, with a note saying, "You'll need this at some of your briefings." And since then, every press secretary has passed on the "flak jacket" to those who came after with a similar note. I saw the jacket recently when the current press secretary, Tony Snow, invited former press secretaries to a ceremony commemorating the renovation of the White House press room.

Herman, from Oregon writes:
I heard on the news that Gerald R. Ford name was changed when his mother remarried. What was his birth name and why is it kept so quiet? Thank You

Ron Nessen
When President Ford was born, his mother was married to a man named Leslie King Sr. in Omaha, Nebraska. Ford was originally named Leslie King Jr. When Ford was about a year old, his mother divorced his father, and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. She later married a man named Gerald R. Ford Sr., and the future President took his new step-father's name.

Kyle, from Ohio writes:
How do you think Ford felt when he lost the Whitehouse to Carter and why do you think he lost that election?

Ron Nessen
Ford had been one of life's winners -- a high school football hero, a college football All-American, a World War II hero, and the winner of 13 consecutive terms in the House of Representatives. His loss to Carter was the first time he'd lost anything so publicly...and initially it hit him very hard.

nana, from Ghana writes:
Hello, Happy new year to everybody, i just wanted to ask about the most lasting legacy and contribution of former president Ford ?

Ron Nessen
The lasting legacy of President Ford was that he restored the public's faith and trust in the presidency and in our government following the disillusionments of the Vietnam War and Watergate.

Timothy, from Seattle writes:
What was the transition period like after the Watergate scandal for Ford's incoming staff?

Ron Nessen
It was an interesting period because Ford had to blend together four separate groups of staff members -- those left over from the Nixon administration, those who were with Ford during his time as a member of Congress and vice president, those who had never worked with him, and those brought to the White House by Vice President Rockefeller. Many of the Ford staff have gone on to very distinguished careers in government, including Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Paul O'Neill, Carla Hills, James Baker, Ed Levi, Alan Greenspan, Brent Scowcroft, Henry Kissinger, etc.

Logan, from Glennville, Georgia writes:
Did President Ford's pardon of President Nixon have an impact in his defeat for re-election in 1976?

Ron Nessen
It did have an impact, but so did economic problems -- high inflation followed by deep recession -- the humiliating end of the Vietnam War, and the long, bitter struggle with Ronald Reagan for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination. Yet, even with all those obstacles, President Ford lost to Jimmy Carter by only 1-1/2 percentage points. After the passage of time, the pardon of Nixon is seen as the right thing to heal the nation's divisions.

Waris, from Schenectady, New York writes:
Dear Ron Nessen. Thank you for answering our questions. Could you write us when did President Ford first run for a public office? Thanks again and Happy New Year.

Ron Nessen
President Ford first ran for Congress from Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1948, after he had returned from service in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. He practiced law briefly in Grand Rapids with his Partner Phil Buchen. Ford was re-elected to the House of Representatives every two years until he became Vice President in 1973.

Stephen, from Illinois writes:
I was wondering, as a home owner am I allowed or should I be flying the flag at half mast in memory of President Gerald Ford? Thank you for your response.

Ron Nessen
In his statements on the death of President Ford, President Bush ordered flags on federal buildings to be flown at half-staff ... and encouraged citizens to show their own respect, which could include flying their own flags at half-staff.

John, from Sacramento, california writes:
President Gerald Ford with his golden retriever, Liberty, in the Oval Office in 1974. Photo courtesy Gerald R. Ford Presidential Libary Well I want to ask was president ford a owner of any pets? if so, what kind did he have, what were their names and Is their any stories about him and his pets?

Ron Nessen
Yes, he had a Labrador Retriever named "Liberty" who often stretched out on the floor of the Oval Office while Ford worked at his desk.

John, from UK writes:
President Ford has been described as an "accidental President".What is your opinion on this comment?

Ron Nessen
Well, he came to the presidency through the Constitutional process because of the resignation, first, of Vice President Agnew, and then the resignation of President Nixon. He had full powers of the presidency, of course.

Marty, from St. Peters, Mo writes:
What was the hardest thing about working for President Ford?

Ron Nessen
One of the hardest things for me was the last day of his presidency. I flew with him aboard the helicopter from the White House to Andrews AFB and waved goodbye when the plane took off to return the President and Mrs. Ford to their home in Palm Springs. It was a very sad occasion.

joe, from grove city, ohio writes:
Why did President Nixon pick President Ford (then Congressmen Ford) to become his Vice President?

Ron Nessen
Because he was so popular with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, that Nixon was sure that he could be confirmed as Vice President. And he was so right!

Ron Nessen
Thank you all very much for participating, and for your excellent questions. I hope the example of President Ford's life and character will encourage all of us to restore civility to our politics. His favorite expression was, "You can disagree without being disagreeable." A great memorial to him would be if we all tried to live by that saying.