Gerald Ford Biography

38th President of the United States

Years Served as President: 1974-1977

Vice President: Nelson Rockefeller 

Party: Republican

Age at Inauguration: 61

Home State: Nebraska

Gerald Ford official Presidential photo

Date of Birth: July 14, 1913

Died: December 26, 2006

Married: Elizabeth Bloomer 

Children: John, Michael, Steven, Susan

Nickname: Jerry

Richard Nixon presidential portrait

What is Gerald Ford known for?

Gerald Ford was the vice president of Richard Nixon. He became president after Nixon infamously resigned following the Watergate scandal.

Previously, he had become the vice president when Spiro Agnew resigned from the position. He is the only president ever who was not elected as president or vice president.

Watergate scandal Time magazine
Watergate scandal – Time magazine cover

Early Life

Gerald Ford was born Leslie Lynch King Jr. in Omaha, Nebraska in 1913. His mother, Dorothy, divorced his mean-tempered biological father when Leslie was a baby.

She moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan with her infant son. There, she married a successful paint salesman named Gerald Rudolph Ford. Leslie’s stepfather adopted him and was a loving father figure.

michigan-seal

Dorothy soon nicknamed her son “Junie,” which later changed to “Jerry.” (After graduating from college, Jerry officially changed his name to Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr.)

In Grand Rapids, Gerald was a high school football star. He received an athletic scholarship to the University of Michigan. In 1935, he graduated with a degree in economics.

economics

Next, Ford studied law at Yale University. When the United States entered World War II in 1941, he served aboard an aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy. He won ten battle stars and proved himself a dependable leader.

Family Life

After leaving the Navy, Ford began working at a law firm in Grand Rapids. He met Elizabeth “Betty” Anne Bloomer, a fashion coordinator and talented dancer.

Ford proposed within months, and the couple got married in 1948. They had four children: John, Michael, Steven, and Susan.

The family was seen as fun, youthful, and energetic. They regularly played tennis together, and Ford’s children campaigned for him in 1976.

voting system

Political Career

The same year Ford married Betty, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served there for 25 years, gaining a reputation as being loyal, friendly, and honest.

In 1964, Ford served on the commission that investigated the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The next year, he became the House minority leader.

Ford’s route to the presidency was an unusual one. It began in 1972 with the Watergate scandal. Five men connected to President Richard Nixon’s administration broke into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.

Watergate Hotel

Around the time this scandal was coming to light, Nixon’s vice president Spiro Agnew resigned over accusations of accepting bribes and not paying taxes.

Nixon appointed Ford as the new vice president, and Congress quickly approved the appointment.

congress-US-capitol
US Capitol building (home of Congress)

Soon, it became apparent that Nixon knew about the break-in and had tried to help cover it up. Instead of facing impeachment, Nixon resigned. Gerald Ford was now the president of the United States.

Presidency

After taking office, Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes associated with the Watergate scandal. This meant that he would not face any criminal charges.

law-justice-police

This decision was very controversial. The American people wanted Nixon to face justice. Some also believed that Ford had made a deal to pardon Nixon in order to become president.

Ford insisted that the nation needed to move forward from the Watergate scandal and heal.

The economy struggled during Ford’s presidency. It was a time of high unemployment and high inflation. The nation also faced an energy crisis.

unemployment

Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, which helped improve relations with the Soviet Union. He tried to send military aid to South Vietnam, but Congress wouldn’t approve it. Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese Communist forces.

Ford ran for the presidential election in 1976 and lost a close race to Jimmy Carter. His decision to pardon Nixon most likely cost him the election.

Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter

After the Presidency

After losing the election, Ford retired to California. He told friends that he wasn’t upset about the loss. 1976 was the year he had planned to retire from Congress.

He viewed the presidency as an unexpected bonus at the end of his political career.

During his retirement, Ford served on the board of several corporations, gave speeches, wrote articles and books, and enjoyed golfing and downhill skiing.

skiing

He and his wife opened the Betty Ford Clinic to support research and treatment for alcoholism. In 1999, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for helping the nation heal after Watergate.

Ford died in 2006 at the age of 93. At the time, he was the oldest United States president.

presidential elections

Fun Facts About Gerald Ford

After college, Ford was offered a contract by both the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. He turned these offers down in favor of attending law school.

He was one of the most athletic U.S. presidents in history. He won football national championships at Michigan in both 1932 and 1933 and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player.

He was also an expert downhill skier.

tornado-bottle

During WWII, Ford narrowly survived after his aircraft carrier caught on fire when it was hit by a typhoon.

Ford’s son Steven starred on the soap opera The Young and the Restless.

In 2003, Ford was awarded the Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for pardoning Nixon. Many people who were strongly against the pardon at the time later said it had been the right decision.

John F. Kennedy Library Foundation
John F. Kennedy Library Foundation

Ford is considered a good and honorable man today.

US Presidents