Gerald Ford served in the Navy, 13 terms as Congressman and eight years as House Minority Leader, Vice President (1973-74) and President of the United States (1974-76)
The only real memory I have of Ford as president was Election night 1976 when he lost the election, narrowly, to Jimmy Carter. Ford slowly faded from the scene after losing the Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan in 1980. His image to my generation and younger is one of a political lightweight thrust into the spotlight who was a bit of a bumbler and spent his retirement happily golfing.
In truth Ford was a good and decent man and during the gravest constitutional crisis in a century, held the country together. Savaged nearly universally for pardoning Richard Nixon Ford used his veto pen frequently faced with an overwhelmingly hostile Congress.
The image as a klutz was only that - a myth propagated by a hostile press looking for a cheap joke. To wit, Ford played both sides of the ball for the Michigan Wolverines, offensive center and linebacker, who gave up a career in the NFL to go to Yale Law School. His #48 is one of only five retired numbers in the storied tradition of Wolverine football.
Gleaves Whitney has an outstanding piece on Ford. Some excerpts:
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: “I think he saved the country. In fact, he saved it in such a matter of fact way that he isn’t given any credit for it.”
[J]ournalist James Cannon, observed, “I remember him as a leader, first and foremost. He was the right man for this country, at the right time, in the most extraordinary crisis in our constitutional system since the Civil War.”
Michigan Democrat [the late] Martha Griffiths: “In all the years I sat in the House, I never knew Mr. Ford to make a dishonest statement nor a statement part-true and part-false. He never attempted to shade a statement, and I never heard him utter an unkind word.”
On September 8, 1974, barely one month in office, President Ford shocked the nation when he pardoned President Nixon; critics — and they were legion — saw it as the greatest plea bargain in history. In fact, after it appeared that Nixon would be impeached by the House of Representatives, his chief of staff, Alexander Haig, met privately with Ford and tried to suggest that he should pardon Nixon in exchange for Nixon’s resignation; Haig even handed Ford the suggested draft of the pardon. The vice president adamantly refused: there would be no “deal.”
After becoming president, Ford pondered and prayed and came to the conclusion that pardoning the disgraced president was the right thing to do, even if it jeopardized his chances of winning the 1976 presidential election. As Ford later reflected on it,I agonized over the idea of a pardon.... But I wasn’t motivated primarily by sympathy for [Nixon’s] plight or by concern over the state of his health. It was the state of the country’s health at home and around the world that worried me.