Explore the presidency of Gerald Ford

Donald Rumsfeld

History can become somewhat clearer the further removed we are from the moment. Perhaps nowhere is this more pronounced than when reflecting on the leaders of our country when, at a point in time, we can dispassionately reassess their service. Few warrant such an assessment more than that of former President Gerald R. Ford and his wife, Betty Ford.

If we look back to those turbulent times of the 1970s, our country was far from unified and further still from good times. The effects of the Vietnam conflict coming to a difficult close and a seriously troubled economy afflicted our country.

But the problems facing our nation extended well beyond. Americans were shocked by the charges of bribery and the subsequent resignation of the nation’s vice president. And quick on the heels of that scandal, came Watergate that led directly to the resignation of a president of the United States for the first time in our history. The nation was stunned and the reservoir of trust in government had been drained.

In 1974, when Gerald Ford was thrust into the presidency after the resignation of Richard Nixon, Ford proclaimed “our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.” From the beginning of his presidency, Ford succeeded in healing our distraught nation by restoring trust in its leaders.

Ford helped to revitalize the country’s economy and reunite a divided America. Against the counsel of advisers who thought the move politically unwise, the new president extended clemency to those who had resisted the draft during the Vietnam War and granted a pardon to Nixon. “As president, my primary concern must always be the greatest good of all the people of the United States whose servant I am. As a man, my first consideration is to be true to my own convictions and my own conscience,” the new president explained to the nation.

Looking back, we now know President Ford’s historic actions were instrumental in healing our nation. One effect was that he sacrificed his political career for the “greatest good of all the people.” Had Nixon not been pardoned, his trial would have continued to divide rather than unite Americans. Furthermore, President Ford, in just 895 days, affected constructive agendas in economic and foreign policies that continued to pay national and international dividends well beyond his tenure.

But that was only half of the story. First lady Betty Ford, made notable contributions as well. The first lady’s decision to discuss publicly her battle with breast cancer — unheard of at the time — helped to raise awareness of the devastating effects of the disease and gave hope for a cure to millions of women across the world.

After leaving the White House, Mrs. Ford turned her impressive energies toward fighting chemical and alcohol addiction, a disease she suffered for years before seeking treatment. To this day, Betty Ford’s name is synonymous with breast cancer detection and treatment as well as treatment centers for addiction.

While the Ford presidency was the fifth shortest in our nation’s history, the Fords left legacies that are important to remember. Their unique contributions are presented well at the newly renovated Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. Re-opening today, the museum’s new interactive displays offer a fresh perspective of that critical time in American history. The new exhibits are accompanied by a state-of-the-art education center. The DeVos Learning Center inside the museum will enable students to learn the life lessons of an exceptional couple, explore the presidency of Gerald Ford and come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of American history.

It was a privilege to serve with President Ford, but an even greater privilege to have had a personal relationship with Gerald and Betty Ford. Our nation owes them both a debt of gratitude for their extraordinary service. Their many contributions at a critical time in our nation’s history merit in-depth understanding and appreciation.

Donald Rumsfeld served as chief-of-staff under President Gerald R. Ford, before being appointed to secretary of defense. Rumsfeld also served as secretary of defense under President George W. Bush.