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President Ford’s death sparks interest in unknown

As a journalist, I read a lot of newspapers. I visit about five news Web sites daily. I normally read anything that strikes my interest and a few of those things eventually make their way into one of my columns or editorials. The past few weeks I’ve read a considerable amount of news about the death and funeral of President Gerald Ford at the age of 93. After reading the news of his death, I realized that I was very unfamiliar with our 38th president.
In 1974, a full decade before I was born, Gerald Ford became president. Knowing nothing really about this man other than he became president in light of Watergate and served during the fall of Saigon, I did what any person my age would do if they had a computer: I googled him.
I’ve come to learn that Ford was an amazing president and accomplished a great deal in the office he held for less than three years. I also learned a lot of interesting and obscure facts about the only person to ever hold the vice presidency and presidency without ever being elected to either office.
In college at the University of Michigan, Ford played football and even played in an exhibition game against the Chicago Bears. As their linebacker and center, he was part of a team that went undefeated and won the national title two years in a row. Ford even turned down contract offers from the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.
After obtaining a law degree from Yale, Ford opened his own practice in Michigan and also worked as a model, appearing in two magazines.
Modeling and turning down contracts with the NFL doesn’t seem like the path of a person who would eventually become president of the most powerful country in the world. However, for President Ford, it worked. He ended up doing some great things in his political endeavors.
He started politics after serving in the Navy and eventually served in the House of Representatives for 13 terms, eight of those years as Minority Leader. Then in 1973, he was appointed vice president after the resignation of Spiro Agnew and less than a year later, in the midst of another scandal, Ford became the 38th president of the United States when President Nixon resigned.
As president, Ford survived the controversy surrounding his full pardon of Nixon and also survived two assassination attempts. His pardon of Nixon, I believe, moved the country forward out of chaos, but the act may also have cost him the 1976 election.
However, what I find most interesting about our 38th president is the Watergate scandal that sent Ford to the White House and the change that it brought to American politics.
I found myself pondering what would have happened had Watergate not happened. What if Nixon had stayed in office? The political world that we see now, I think, would have been vastly different.
Ford signed the Helsinki accords and this move led to the creation of the Human Rights Watch organization which evolved out of the Helsinki watch. The current organization now monitors human rights violations and conducts research and advocacy on human rights. It is an organization that I believe does a great deal of good.
He also negotiated the cede of the Panama Canal and invited Canada to be part of the G-8.
Ford appointed three people to office who are influential in politics today. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was appointed secretary of state, Vice President Richard Cheney as his Chief of Staff, and former President George H.W. Bush as director of the CIA.
It’s very interesting for me, at least, to see how one incident can change things so vastly. History has always fascinated me. Watergate potentially gave these three men their start in White House politics. I wonder if Bush Sr. would have been president without having served as director of the CIA or if the other two would have made it back to the White House if they had not been appointed to their posts during Ford’s presidency?
I wonder, for that matter, if Nixon had stayed in office, would the country have seen the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bush Sr., Bill Clinton and George W. Bush?
Had Nixon stayed in office, I wonder if the man who was a football player, a model, a lieutenant commander, a congressman, and our 40th vice president would have become our 38th president?
It’s definitely interesting to ponder, but definitely not feasible to know. However, one thing is certain, I’m sure President Ford will be missed and remembered by a great number of people.