Thu, Dec 28, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Gerald Ford passes away at 93

THE INTERIM PRESIDENT Handpicked by Nixon as the Watergate scandal escalated, the 38th US president brought much political experience and ability to the White House

AP , LOS ANGELES

Former US president Gerald Ford, who picked up the pieces of Richard Nixon's scandal-shattered White House as the 38th president and the only one never elected to nationwide office, has died, his wife Betty said on Tuesday. He was 93.

"My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather has passed away at 93 years of age," Betty Ford said in a brief statement issued from her husband's office in Rancho Mirage.

"His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country," she said.

He died at 6:45pm on Tuesday at his home in Rancho Mirage, about 209km east of Los Angeles, his office said in a statement. No cause of death was released. Funeral arrangements were to be announced yesterday.

Ford was the longest living president, followed by Ronald Reagan, who also died at 93.

"The American people will always admire Gerald Ford's devotion to duty, his personal character and the honorable conduct of his administration," President George W. Bush said in a statement on Tuesday night. "We mourn the loss of such a leader, and our 38th president will always have a special place in our nation's memory."

"I was deeply saddened this evening when I heard of Jerry Ford's death," former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement. "Ronnie and I always considered him a dear friend and close political ally. His accomplishments and devotion to our country are vast, and even long after he left the presidency he made it a point to speak out on issues important to us all."

Ford was an accidental president, Nixon's hand-picked successor, a man of much political experience who had never run on a national ticket. He was as open and direct as Nixon was tightly controlled and conspiratorial.

Minutes after Nixon resigned in disgrace over the Watergate scandal and flew into exile, Ford took office and famously declared: "Our long national nightmare is over."

But he revived the Watergate debate a month later by granting Nixon a pardon for all crimes he committed as president. That single act, it was widely believed, cost Ford election to a term of his own in 1976, but it won praise in later years as a courageous act that allowed the nation to move on.

The Vietnam War ended in defeat for the US during his presidency with the fall of Saigon in April 1975.

In a speech as the end neared, Ford said: "Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned."

Evoking Abraham Lincoln, he said it was time to "look forward to an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the nation's wounds."

Ford was the first unelected vice president, chosen by Nixon to replace Spiro Agnew who also was forced from office by scandal.

He was in the White House only 895 days, but changed it more than it changed him.

Even after two women tried to kill him, the presidency of Jerry Ford remained open and plain.

After the Watergate ordeal, Americans liked their new president -- and first lady Betty, whose candor charmed the country.

She remained widely admired women even after she was hospitalized in 1978 for drug abuse problems. She established the Betty Ford Clinic in 1979.

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