Steve Ford, the son of President Gerald R. Ford, said his father would walk down State Street as a freshman and wonder what they were going to make out of that “pile of dirt” on the corner of State and Hill Streets.
More than 80 years later, Steve stood before a standing-room-only crowd in Weill Hall, which houses the School of Public Policy, which is named in honor of his father.
A panel discussion was held Wednesday in honor of the 100th anniversary of the former president’s birth and next year will mark 100 years of public policy programs on campus.
The event included the premiere of “Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game,” a documentary of Gerald’s actions in response to the University’s decision to bench then-senior Willis Ward at the request of opponent Georgia Tech. At the time, southern schools refused to play football against black athletes.
Gerald and Ward became fast friends after meeting on the first day of orientation in 1931, and by their senior year both were starting members of the football team. When the decision to bench Ward became clear, Gerald was so “disgusted” that he walked into Harry Kripke’s office, the head football coach at the time, and quit. At Ward’s request, however, Gerald played the game, taking his frustration out on a mouthy member of the opposing team and devoting his tackle to Ward.
After a screening of the film, speakers at the event — including Steve Ford and Ward’s grandson, Buzz Thomas — shared their personal memories about growing up under their fathers’ influence.
Steve remarked that his father rarely told the story of his protest against the racial injustice Ward suffered. He attributed this to the former president’s modesty and character.
Ward’s great-niece, LSA senior Melanie Ward, said she saw the event on Facebook and decided to attend because of her family ties.
“I had never met Buzz Thomas before, and even though we’re not blood related, we’re in the family, so I wanted to meet him,” Ward said. “I can’t really relate to the athletics and what he went through, but I can relate to his diligence, his work ethic, his standards of excellence that have been passed on to my family.”
“(Ward’s) brother was my grandfather, so it’s really clear in my family that whatever you’re doing, you need to do it well,” Ward continued.
Engineering sophomore Michael Lipowicz said he was interested in attending the race-related event after Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.
“It’s important to look back and see how far we’ve come, from this one event that was very critical in our time, even though it was kind of a low blow, just to see the progress that we’ve made,” Lipowicz said.
“I feel like I got to know the president a lot better, and the emotion that he showed, the sacrifice that he was willing to make — it’s those kinds of people that really make the change and keep character strong.”