The Accidental President

Until Bill Clinton came along, Gerald R. Ford was my favorite president. He is still in my top two.

He never intended to be president, just like I never intended to be a reporter. The stars lined up and we did what we did.

He was selected in 1973, to replace Spiro T. Agnew, as Richard Nixon’s vice president. He ascended to the White House when Nixon was forced to resign. Mr, Ford is the only man to serve as vice president and president without being elected to either office.

While all this was going on, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had no clear plan. I never thought a black woman could have a future in radio and television. But it happened and in 1976, I met Gerald Ford, president of the United States of America.

I met him when I was a rookie reporter and he was a rookie president. He always had an easygoing way about him. He always smiled, looked you in the eye and if you were close enough, shook your hand.

His handshake wasn’t that phony politician wet fish handshake. It was real. Solid. Firm. Friendly.

Mr. Ford always remembered your name. I wasn’t a national reporter at the time, but I covered him several times, at different times around the country, and after that first time, he always called me Jo.

Back in the day, before Hinckly shot Reagan, it was possible to get close to the president and sometimes Mr. Ford would hang around and chat. He talked sports, current events, and sometimes even asked about your life. Nothing special. Just chitchat before things turned official.

I liked him and looked forward to seeing him, even when there was no chitchat. His eyes always said “hello” even when he couldn’t.

Gerald Ford and others, like Barry Goldwater, Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, Ed Muskie, Tip O’Neill, are the last of a dying breed of bigger than life men, who never took themselves so seriously that they couldn’t connect with just plain folks.

Gerald Ford was a nice guy, period.

Rest in peace, Mr. President.

(originally published in CRAM Magazine, Volume 2, 6/2006)
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