David Hume Kennerly/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
President Gerald Ford jumps on a trampoline as his daughter, Susan, watches, 1974. This is one of hundreds of thousands of images snapped by former White House photographer David Hume Kennerly, who recalls that Ford gave him complete access.
President Gerald Ford jumps on a trampoline as his daughter, Susan, watches, 1974. This is one of hundreds of thousands of images snapped by former White House photographer David Hume Kennerly, who recalls that Ford gave him complete access. David Hume Kennerly/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Friends and colleagues of Gerald R. Ford, America's 38th president, remember him as a selfless public servant, a man of integrity, honesty and humor who led a nation shaken by the Watergate scandal.
COKIE ROBERTS: A Very Civil Servant
NPR's Cokie Roberts knew Ford for most of her life. Her father, Hale Boggs, the Democratic majority leader of the House, sometimes shared a cab with Minority Leader Ford. Roberts recalls that the former president described his relationship with her father as one where they could have "a genuine argument" and still "be best friends."
Roberts says Ford bemoaned the loss of such civility. "He said, 'I don't know what's happened to that. That's a real loss in Washington today.'"
More of Roberts' Recollections
WRITER ROBERT ORBEN: Simple Words, with Humor
A former writer for The Red Skelton Show, Robert Orben ran the White House speech-writing office under Ford. He called the former president "the kindest, gentlest and easiest client I have ever had."
"He liked simple language, he liked to put it in his own words and he liked humor," Orben told NPR. He said Ford was even able to laugh along at the satirized version of himself popularized on the TV show Saturday Night Live, where comedian Chevy Chase portrayed Ford as a hapless klutz.
More of Orben's Recollections
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Vindicated by History
Ford is perhaps best-remembered for pardoning President Richard Nixon for his role in Watergate just a month after replacing him in the Oval Office. Though the pardon brought him derision, Ford remained convinced it was the right way to help the country move past the scandal.
Many formers critics now agree that Ford's decision was the right thing to do — including Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) who later became friends with Ford and awarded him a "Profile in Courage" award in 2001.
"Few are vindicated so thoroughly as President Ford was," Kennedy said.
More of Kennedy's Recollections
PHOTOGRAPHER DAVID KENNERLY: Access Granted
The Pulitzer Prize winner chronicled the Ford administration as the official White House photographer. David Hume Kennerly told NPR that he accepted the job on two conditions: "I said, 'Mr. President, there are only two things I would like: Total access, and the use of Air Force One on the weekends.' And he looked at me like, 'Well, the access is no problem, but I don't know about the airplane.'"
“He was good for it," says Kennerly, who ended up receiving top-secret clearance and was allowed to sit in on most high-level meetings. "He was a man of his word, and he let me into the chicken coop."
Kennerly snapped hundreds of thousands of photos of Ford, including candid shots of the president air-smooching a geisha and of Betty Ford dancing on the Cabinet Room table.
More of Kennerly's Recollections
ADVISER JAMES CANNON: A Noble Workhorse
James Cannon was an assistant to President Ford for domestic affairs and is the author of Time and Chance: Gerald Ford's Appointment with History. Ford was "a workhorse, not a show horse," he says. "He did not aspire to be president, he never expected to be president, he didn't really want to be president," Cannon said. "He wanted to be speaker of the House."
Still, Cannon says, Ford was the ideal candidate to lead a nation scarred by war and scandal.
"He had two essential qualities for the presidency: a practical mind and a noble heart."
More of Cannon's Recollections