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Former US President Gerald Ford Dies at 93

Former President Gerald Ford is dead at the age of 93. Mr. Ford had been in declining health this year, battling pneumonia and undergoing two heart procedures. He suffered a mild stroke in 2000. The 38th president of the United States, Gerald Ford is best known as a man who helped the country get through one of the darkest periods in American history. VOA's Linda Cashdan reports.

Gerald Ford became America's first un-elected vice president in 1973, when he was appointed to replace Vice President Spiro Agnew, who had been forced from office by revelations of financial corruption.

Less than one year later, on August 9, 1974, President Richard Nixon was forced to resign in the wake of the Watergate controversy. The nation was reeling from two resignations and a scandal that seemed to shake the U.S. government to its very foundation. President Ford's first act on assuming the presidency was to reassure the public.

"My Fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over," said President Ford. "Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule."

Gerald Ford was a product of small town Midwestern America. He worked his way through college, played intercollegiate football, went to law school, and then went off to fight in World War II. In 1948, he was elected to the U.S. Congress, for the first time, from his hometown, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In Washington, Mr. Ford earned a reputation among fellow Republicans for hard work and party loyalty. On domestic issues, he voted with the conservatives, and in foreign affairs he sided with the party's internationalist wing.

Mr. Ford never wanted to be president. His ambitions were satisfied when he was elected minority leader of the House of Representatives in 1965.

Nine years later, when he assumed the presidency in the midst of a national crisis, his White House chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld, recalled, Gerald Ford's primary goal was to restore trust in the nations leadership.

"The reservoir of trust had been drained when Jerry Ford came into office," noted Rumsfeld. "His major task was to heal the nation, to refill that reservoir of trust so that government could function in a manner that was successful."

One month after taking office, however, Ford made a decision that undermined his chances of winning election for another term in the office that had just been handed to him. In an attempt to end the nation's obsession with the Watergate controversy, he granted a full and absolute pardon to Richard Nixon.

President Ford's press secretary, Jerald TerHorst, who resigned in protest before the pardon was announced, said the pardon haunted the rest of Gerald Ford's presidency. "The pardon allowed Richard Nixon to escape the judicial process, even while those of lower station, including his senior White House aides, were left to run the gauntlet of our justice system, including prison terms," he said. "The Nixon pardon put just one man above the law." The pardon overshadowed President Ford's attempts to improve the U.S. economy, reinvigorate the U.S. military, preserve a delicate peace in the Middle East and reassert America's world leadership.

In 1976, Gerald Ford lost the presidency to Democrat Jimmy Carter in a very close election. In later years, Mr. Ford said he felt confident that, despite his defeat, he had delivered on his promise to restore faith in the government. "I still feel good about turning the country over to President Carter in a much better shape than it was when I came on watch," he said, "and sorry that I didn't have another four years to improve my on-the-job training skills."

What is most often recalled about Gerald Ford's brief tenure at the helm of the nation is that during a grim moment in U.S. history, a man of humor, candor, integrity and goodwill steered the nation forward.