DETROIT (AP) – Decades after she worked as a “Scatterblitzer” for President Gerald Ford’s 1976 re-election campaign, Terry Lynn Land received a note from Ford in 2002 after her own successful run for secretary of state.
Ford had long been known for returning favors to his loyal volunteers, said Land, who traveled around the Midwest and handed out Michigan apples for Ford 30 years ago. But the note was remarkable for its detail, even mentioning the town where she lived, Byron Center.
He “talked a little about it in the note about how he went to Byron Center and mentioned a few things about people from Byron Center,” she said Wednesday. “I was just like wow, even after all these years he still remembers those folks that he worked with for so many years.”
Ford, who replaced disgraced President Richard Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974, but failed to win a term of his own in 1976, died Tuesday at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 93.
The Grand Rapids Republican represented Michigan’s 5th District in Congress from 1949-1974, serving as House minority leader before becoming the first appointed vice president in 1973 after Spiro Agnew left amid scandal.
“Jerry always had the admiration of colleagues because he wasn’t a partisan. He worked with Democrats as well as Republicans,” said former U.S. Sen. Robert P. Griffin, who first met Ford during his campaign for the adjacent 9th congressional district in 1956. The two men remained close friends.
That ability to work with both sides was a plus when it came time for Nixon to pick a replacement for Agnew, because Democrats had a congressional majority and the nomination had to be approved by Congress.
“The one guy who could get the support of Democrats as well as Republicans was Jerry Ford,” Griffin said.
Ford also was known for his athletic skills. He played center on the undefeated University of Michigan national championship football teams of 1932 and 1933, and he turned down offers to play professional football with the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers to attend Yale University, where he became an assistant football and boxing coach to help put himself through school.
He later became a physical fitness instructor at a U.S. Naval Reserve school in Chapel Hill, N.C., before serving in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific in World War II.
Griffin recalled Ford and his family visiting his home in Traverse City during winter skiing trips.
“We kept his skis for him,” Griffin said. “When he went north to go skiing he went through Traverse City and picked ’em up and then he dropped them off when he went back to Grand Rapids. Like Marge says,” he laughed, echoing his wife, “he didn’t have to take them to Washington then.”
Ford was also a devout man of faith. Billy Zeoli, who co-chairs Gospel Communications International in Muskegon, wrote a prayer each Friday that appeared every Monday on Ford’s desk while Ford was in Congress and in the White House. Zeoli compiled many of the prayers in the book “God’s Got a Better Idea,” a title he said he stole from a Ford Motor Co. ad campaign.
Ford wrote in the introduction to the book that the weekly prayers “followed me into the Oval Office and continued throughout my presidential tenure. There were 146 in all. Not only were they profound in their meaning and judicious in their selection, I believe they were also divinely inspired.”
Zeoli remembers Ford as a loyal friend who refused to use his faith for political ends.
“The man was a Christian, he did not carry it on his sleeve,” Zeoli said. “He really had accepted Christ. Every morning, he walked into the Oval Office, he quoted Proverbs 3:5-6. That’s how he started his day.”
The verses read, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
Rusty Hills, press secretary for the Michigan attorney general’s office, recalled the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Mo., where he served as a delegate for Ronald Reagan, Ford’s GOP rival. The two candidates were at odds over issues such as the economy and foreign policy.
But Hills said Ford was gracious after winning the party’s nomination, even inviting Reagan down to address the convention following the announcement.
“I thought that was a very statesmanlike touch to help cement the two sides,” Hills said.
Hills eventually switched sides and worked on Ford’s campaign that year.
“I thought he lived a long and good life,” Hills said. “He was always what he was, which was a decent and kind American who had the best values for the middle class at heart in everything he did as president.”
Dick DeVos, whose family has long been friends of the Ford family, said the former president offered him words of encouragement during his recent gubernatorial campaign.
“He was a man of great humility. He never held himself up,” DeVos said. “He was sort of quintessential Michigan.”
To Land, Ford’s passing also represents the end of an era.
She recalls how as a congressman, Ford would walk down the street in his district and know the names of everyone who said hello.
She said he returned often to his hometown of Grand Rapids, and because he never planned on inheriting the White House, usually turned for advice to his loyal base of west Michigan supporters.
Land said Ford ran his presidential campaign “just meeting one person at a time” in an era before cell phones and media saturation.
“I don’t think there’s anything that’s ever going to happen like that again, where you had such a community involved in a national campaign,” Land said.