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Politician & Activist

Gerald Ford

Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. was an American politician who served as the 38th president of the United States from August 1974 to January 1977.

Before his accession to the presidency, Ford served as the 40th vice president of the United States from December 1973 to August 1974.

  • Full name: Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr.
  • Profession: American politician
  • 38th U.S. President
  • Born: 14 July 1913, Omaha, Nebraska, United States
  • Died: 26 December 2006, Rancho Mirage, California, United States
  • Presidential term: 9 August 1974 – 20 January 1977
  • Vice president: Nelson Rockefeller (1974–1977)
  • Party: Republican Party
  • Spouse: Betty Ford (m. 1948–2006)

About Gerald Ford

Ford was born Leslie Lynch King Jr. on 14 July 1913, at 3202 Woolworth Avenue in Omaha, Nebraska, where his parents lived with his paternal grandparents.

He was the child of Dorothy Ayer Gardner and Leslie Lynch King Sr., a wool trader. His father was a son of prominent banker Charles Henry King and Martha Alicia King (née Porter).

Gardner separated from King just sixteen days after her son’s birth. She took her son with her to Oak Park, Illinois, home of her sister Tannisse and brother-in-law, Clarence Haskins James.

From there, she moved to the home of her parents, Levi Addison Gardner and Adele Augusta Ayer, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Gardner and King divorced in December 1913, and she gained full custody of her son. Ford’s paternal grandfather Charles Henry King paid child support until shortly before his death in 1930.

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Ford later said that his biological father had a history of hitting his mother. In a biography of Ford, James M. Cannon, a member of the Ford administration, wrote that the separation and divorce of Ford’s parents were sparked when, a few days after Ford’s birth, Leslie King took a butcher knife and threatened to kill his wife, his infant son, and Ford’s nursemaid.

Ford later told confidants that his father had first hit his mother when she smiled at another man during their honeymoon.

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After living with her parents for two-and-a-half years, Gardner married Gerald Rudolff Ford on February 1, 1916.

Gerald was a salesman in a family-owned paint and varnish company. They now called her son Gerald Rudolff Ford Jr.

The future president was never formally adopted and did not legally change his name until December 3, 1935; he also used a more conventional spelling of his middle name.

He was raised in Grand Rapids with his three half-brothers from his mother’s second marriage: Thomas Gardner “Tom” Ford (1918–1995), Richard Addison “Dick” Ford (1924–2015), and James Francis “Jim” Ford (1927–2001).

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Ford also had three half-siblings from the second marriage of Leslie King Sr., his biological father: Marjorie King (1921–1993), Leslie Henry King (1923–1976), and Patricia Jane King (1925–1980).

They never saw one another as children, and he did not know them at all until 1960. Ford was not aware of his biological father until he was 17, when his parents told him about the circumstances of his birth.

That year his biological father, whom Ford described as a “carefree, well-to-do man who didn’t really give a damn about the hopes and dreams of his firstborn son”, approached Ford while he was waiting tables in a Grand Rapids restaurant.

The two “maintained a sporadic contact” until Leslie King Sr.’s death in 1941.

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Ford said, “My stepfather was a magnificent person and my mother equally wonderful. So I couldn’t have written a better prescription for a superb family upbringing.”

Two men in suits and another man in a Boy Scout uniform stand beside 10 seated teenaged boys in Boy Scout uniforms. Ford is indicated by a red circle.

Eagle Scout Gerald Ford (circled in red) in 1929; Michigan governor Fred W. Green at far left, holding hat

Ford was involved in the Boy Scouts of America, and earned that program’s highest rank, Eagle Scout. He is the only Eagle Scout to have ascended to the U.S. Presidency.

Ford attended Grand Rapids South High School, where he was a star athlete and captain of the football team.

In 1930, he was selected to the All-City team of the Grand Rapids City League. He also attracted the attention of college recruiters.

Career

Ford attended the University of Michigan and Yale Law School.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve, serving from 1942 to 1946; he left as a lieutenant commander.

Ford began his political career in 1949 as the U.S. representative from Michigan’s 5th congressional district.

He served in this capacity for 25 years, the final nine of them as the House Minority Leader. In December 1973, two months after the resignation of Spiro Agnew, Ford became the first person appointed to the vice presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment by President Richard Nixon.

After the subsequent resignation of President Nixon in August 1974, Ford immediately assumed the presidency. His 895 day-long presidency is the shortest in U.S. history for any president who did not die in office.

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As president, Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, which marked a move toward détente in the Cold War. With the collapse of South Vietnam nine months into his presidency, U.S. involvement in Vietnam essentially ended.

Domestically, Ford presided over the worst economy in the four decades since the Great Depression, with growing inflation and a recession during his tenure.

In one of his most controversial acts, he granted a presidential pardon to President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal.

During Ford’s presidency, foreign policy was characterized in procedural terms by the increased role Congress began to play, and by the corresponding curb on the powers of the President.

In the Republican presidential primary campaign of 1976, Ford defeated former California Governor Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination.

He narrowly lost the presidential election to the Democratic challenger, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter.

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Following his years as president, Ford remained active in the Republican Party. His moderate views on various social issues increasingly put him at odds with conservative members of the party in the 1990s and early 2000s.

In retirement, Ford set aside the enmity he had felt towards Carter following the 1976 election, and the two former presidents developed a close friendship.

After experiencing a series of health problems, he died at home on December 26, 2006.