Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr., was the fortieth Vice President and the thirty-eighth President of the United States. He remains the only individual to serve as President without ever having been elected to either the presidency or vice presidency. Along with Nelson Rockefeller, he is one of only two people to serve as Vice President after being appointed.
Ford was born to Leslie Lynch King and Dorothy Ayer Gardner. His parents divorced two years after he was born, and his mother remarried to Gerald Ford, after whom he was renamed. Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and starred as a center playing football for the University of Michigan. After graduating in 1935, he turned down contract offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers of the National Football League. Ford graduated from Yale Law School in 1941, having coached football and boxing part time to pay for school. Ford joined the Boy Scouts as a kid and attained the rank of Eagle Scout. He always regarded this as one of his proudest accomplishments even after attaining the White House. He said "I am the first Eagle Scout President!"
In April 1942 Ford joined the U.S. Naval Reserve receiving a commission as an ensign. After an orientation program at Annapolis, he became a physical fitness instructor at a pre- flight school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In the spring of 1943 he began service in the light aircraft carrier USS Monterey (CVL-26). He was first assigned as athletic director and gunnery division officer, then as assistant navigator, with the Monterey which took part in most of the major operations in the South Pacific, including Truk, Saipan, and the Philippines. His closest call with death came not as a result of enemy fire, however, but during a vicious typhoon in the Philippine Sea in December 1944. He came within inches of being swept overboard while the storm raged. The ship, which was severely damaged by the storm and the resulting fire, had to be taken out of service. Ford spent the remainder of the war ashore and was discharged as a lieutenant commander in February 1946.
Ford was a member of the House of Representatives for 24 years from 1949 to 1973, and became Minority Leader of the Republican Party in the House. Ford was very popular with the voters in his district and was always re-elected with 60% margins. He always stayed in close touch with the people of Grand Rapids. During his first campaign, he visited farmers and promised he would work on their farms and milk their cows if elected. He followed through on his promise afterwards!
Ford won an award in 1961 as a "Congressman's Congressman" that praised his committee work on military budgets. During his tenure, Ford was chosen to serve on the Warren Commission, a special task force set up to investigate the causes of, and quell rumors regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Commission eventually concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in killing the President, a conclusion sometimes disparaged by conspiracy theorists as the "Lone Nut Theory". Today Ford is the only surviving member of the Commission, and continues to stand behind its conclusions.
After Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned during Richard Nixon's presidency, on October 10, 1973, Nixon nominated Ford to take Agnew's place, under the 25th Amendment - the first time it applied. The United States Senate voted 92 to 3 to confirm Ford on November 27, 1973 and on December 6, the House confirmed him 387 to 35. Ford had long been one of President Nixon's most outspoken supporters.
When Nixon then resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal on August 9, 1974, Ford assumed the presidency, proclaiming that "our long national nightmare is over".
The people who worked in the White House during the Ford administration universally praised the President and First Lady as warm, gracious and down to earth people who helped restore confidence after the scandal of Watergate.
It is believed that Ford's pardoning of Nixon, along with the continuing economic problems, cost him the election of 1976.
His campaign may also have been hampered by a strong challenge that year for the nomination in the Republican party by Ronald Reagan. Additionally, Ford made a major gaffe during a television debate when he insisted that Eastern Europe was not dominated by the Soviets.
As of 2004, he is the oldest living former President, outliving one of his successors, Ronald Reagan, the longest-lived American president. On July 14, 2004, he became the second former US President (after Reagan) to reach his 91st birthday.