Death has taken a leader who helped heal a nation. Gerald R. Ford will not go down in history as a great president, but he was the right president for his time.
Ford, who died this week at the age of 93, was a steady hand on the helm, a solid and comforting leader at a time when a country torn by deep divisions over an unpopular war and rocked by political scandal desperately needed that. He filled the role admirably, ending his own political future in the process.
The defining moment of his presidency was his full pardon of President Richard M. Nixon, whose position he filled when Nixon resigned in disgrace. It was a decision that allowed him to govern effectively and gave force to his memorable proclamation -- make that assurance -- that "our long national nightmare is over." But it probably also cost him the next election, as voters chose Jimmy Carter instead.
Ford's 895 days in the Oval Office as an unelected president stretched from the climactic disgrace of Watergate in 1974 to the fall of Saigon in 1975 to the national fervor of the bicentennial celebration in 1976. He once joked that he was "a Ford, not a Lincoln," but that remarkably short journey from chaos and disgrace to fireworks and patriotism was due in no small part to his calm leadership, reassuring personal integrity and approachable humanity.
His ascent to the presidency was in a sense accidental, a constitutional mandate for a vice president after the resignation of the man who had picked him as a running mate. He long insisted that his subsequent pardon of Nixon was for the good of the nation and not as a result of any "deal." He is to be believed.
Ford's political career started in 1948, when he was elected to the House of Representatives from Michigan. His was a career long on dependability and short on glamour, and he rose to the rank of House Republican leader. When Nixon's first vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned in disgrace, Ford was picked to become the first vice president confirmed under the 25th Amendment. Ford was the much-needed honest man to fill both executive leadership posts in the wake of scandal.
Ford had never run on a national ticket until his presidential candidacy, and there must have been keen disappointment in not winning the presidency outright in the 1976 campaign. But he had earlier asked Americans to confirm his presidency with their prayers.
Those prayers should be renewed today. America has lost not just a good man for his time, but a good man for any time.