I first met Gerald Ford when he visited the University to teach some classes a few years after he left the White House. What was striking about him then and was still true over 20 years later was his evident intelligence, quick wit and physical grace.

Here was a man who had been much maligned as being slow and clumsy. He was neither. He was surpassingly knowledgeable about politics and was witty, athletic and charismatic.

He also had an astonishing ability to remember names and faces. My first meeting with him was at a luncheon with about 20 people. Everyone got to shake hands and say hello, and there was extended and substantive conversation, but it was hardly an intimate event. Two or three years later, on another of his visits to campus, we shook hands in a receiving line, and he remembered my name. I’m told that my experience was a common one.

Ford’s contributions to public policy are of course many. He was very much a man of principle, and his principles delayed for many years the naming of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. He was first contacted about the possibility sometime around 1980 by Jack Walker, who was then the head of our public policy program.

In those days it was common to get large federal appropriations for presidential monuments. Walker saw an opportunity to enhance Michigan’s program if he could get Ford’s backing, especially in light of the fact that Ford was much beloved in Congress.

Ford would have none of it, taking the principled position that he could not advocate for any federal spending on such a project when the federal budget was so seriously in deficit. In the end it was the University and private donors that enabled the Ford School to grow and prosper.

Of course, Ford played an essential role in mobilizing those donors, and he and his wife Betty made significant financial contributions.

Much has been written in the past week about the moment when Ford become president and how much his honesty and genuineness meant to the country at a terrible time. Those of us who remember those days cannot find the words to convey our gratitude to this good man and great American. Over time he gave us much more, consistently showing wisdom and sound judgment. Imagine how much better off we would be if he had been making the major policy decisions of the last six years.

For our School of Public Policy to bear Gerald Ford’s name is a great honor and a source of great pride.

Paul Courant
Public Policy professor, former University of Michigan provost

As a student, Gerald Ford demonstrated his spirit and dedication on the football field. He also found time to work several part-time jobs to supplement his scholarship and still was able to focus on academics, majoring in economics and political science.

But it was as an alum that Ford’s service to the University really shined. He was instrumental in elevating the University’s status, raising funds and lending his name to the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

In 2005, I had the privilege of presenting Ford with the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Service Award, the highest honor we can bestow on a graduate of the University. I was amazed at his humility and his continuing devotion to the University.

“It was a great experience for me to be at the University of Michigan for four years,” Ford said. “I have always been proud – very, very proud – of my association with the University. When people ask me where I went to college, I say ‘Go Blue!’ “

Steve Grafton
Alumni Association president

Two days ago, I placed a yellow-and-blue wreath before the flag-draped casket of former President Gerald Ford during a memorial service in his hometown of Grand Rapids.

Serving as an honorary pallbearer for an American president was a privilege unlike any I have known. Yet the real tribute was to the University of Michigan, an institution Ford loved and supported from his first days as an undergraduate in LSA.

A graduate of the class of 1935, his impact is highly visible on campus, from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the campus’s southern gateway to his presidential library on North Campus. He served his alma mater as an adviser, a teacher, a donor and an advocate who always wanted the best for Michigan.

Retirement from the public arena did not mute President Ford’s commitment to Michigan. He was thrilled with the construction of Weill Hall, the new home of the Ford School, and delighted in seeing construction updates, photographs and videos.

From the tower of Weill Hall, one can see Michigan Stadium – a view very much appreciated by Ford. His love of both academics and athletics was unparalleled.

This past week has been rich with remembrances of the former president. He is hailed for his integrity, his service, his devotion to family and his quiet courage in the face of difficult decisions.

A university can ask no more of an alumnus. His life and legacy serves as an extraordinary model for the students of today and tomorrow. We will forever be proud of him.

Mary Sue Coleman
University of Michigan president

As a member of the Michigamua class of 1935 and an active alumnus, Gerald Ford had a special relationship that each senior class held in high honor. In addition to his visits with the football team, President Ford enjoyed staying connected to student leaders by meeting with us in the Michigan Union and sending encouragement throughout the years. He enriched our knowledge of the past, helped us illuminate the issues of today and inspired us for tomorrow.

While he was in the White House, Ford sent opening remarks to Michigamua to support them during the organization’s 75th anniversary. Prior to Michigamua’s 100th anniversary, Ford met with the men and women of the classes of 1999 and 2000 to offer counsel on how to manage the group through change and emphasized that we should continue to lead with integrity.

He even twice surprised our senior classes by visiting the seventh floor of the Union to share stories about his time at Michigan and get fired up about the upcoming football game.

Despite being decades removed from active campus life, Ford continued to demonstrate great passion and dedication to the University and its students. As recent as the past few years, his eyes grew wide with pride when he met members of our group to talk about the affairs of the campus we love. We join others in saluting the life of a great leader, friend and Michigan Man.

Andrew Yahkind
Member of the senior honor society formerly known as Michigamua

While waiting in line to file past Gerald Ford’s casket as he lay in state Tuesday night, I talked with nine strangers to pass the time.

Perhaps the most interesting was a quiet man who had driven six hours and said he was willing to wait 16 hours to pay his respects.

It turns out he worked on the lead staff in the White House starting when Ford was appointed vice president in 1973 and worked in that position under six presidents, traveling to over 100 countries and five continents.

He came because he said that in his time in the White House, there was no president who was as honest, open and who brought the values of the common man to the office better than Ford.

Brian Steers
Secretary of the University chapter of the College Republicans

From 1974 to 1981, Gerald Ford came to the Bentley Historical Library on North Campus on several occasions in the process of planning for the construction of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

I certainly cannot say that I knew Ford well, but I did meet him several times. You did not need to spend a lot of time with him to get a sense of his very basic decency. He was extraordinarily approachable – like a next-door neighbor.

At the same time, he was one of our most astute presidents.

A lot is made of his many vetoes and his harsh reaction to the first proposal for a federal bailout of New York City. Ford had been in Congress. He knew the processes of government. He could be firm in action until he saw that the result would be reasonable. Many of those vetoed bills were refined and passed. New York City was assisted in its financial crisis. And, of course, after years of debate, his pardon of Richard Nixon is now considered a most courageous act of foresight. He was in essence an ordinary man who emerged as a respected leader in extraordinary times.

Francis Blouin
Director of the Bentley Historical Library on North Campus

Gerald Ford had a remarkable way of embedding the American dream of educational opportunity in the lives of ordinary people. He spoke as persuasively about equity on the football field as about excellence in public affairs. Not surprisingly, he understood immediately why affirmative action was essential to integrating higher education.

It was profoundly reassuring for me, as for everyone at the University, when Ford stood by us unflinchingly during our defense of affirmative action in the courts.

His 1999 op/ed piece in The New York Times appeared at a pivotal moment in the national debate, providing an acute personal reflection on the value of diversity.

When we dedicated the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, many of Ford’s cabinet members returned to campus with him. What I most remember about that day was the president’s humane and unassuming good nature. Instead of bravado, he inspired us with his steadfastness. It is a quality we will need in the days to come as we again seek to assemble a coalition of leaders, educators and citizens to defend diversity in Ford’s alma mater, his home state and the nation he so loved.

Nancy Cantor
Chancellor and president of Syracuse University and former University of Michigan provost

For more than a decade, I taught a first-year seminar in the Ford Presidential Library.

Ford always came to one or two programs a year that were sponsored by the Ford Library. These programs brought many key people together to discuss contemporary and historical issues who would not have come to Ann Arbor except for Ford’s presence, including the popular combination of Ford and ex-President Jimmy Carter, which was affectionately referred to by everyone as the “Jerry and Jimmy Show.”

I have one particularly vivid memory from a panel discussion at the Ford library with four present and former national security advisers. Ford listened patiently to their suggestions and recommendations for policy that should be implemented. When asked for his comments, President Ford got up and in very precise and eloquent language explained why such policies would not have a ghost of a chance of implementation once they reached Congress.

I knew I was listening to a man who knew Congress and how it worked better than anyone in that room could possibly know. I might add that his words carried no less weight despite the fact that he was hobbling around on crutches following knee surgery due to old football injuries that had finally caught up with him.

Margaret L. Steneck
Retired history professor, expert on University of Michigan history

The University named its public policy program after Gerald Ford in the fall of 1999. I met him for the first time earlier that year as we talked about this possibility. Then as well as in subsequent meetings over the years, I found him fascinating.

Forget the stereotypes you might have. He was one of our more athletic presidents and showed that physical grace well into his 90s.

He came to the Ford School annually for several years after our naming. While he never wanted to give a speech, he always asked to meet with students, simply asking them to discuss current events with him. When asked a question, he answered it with four or five complete sentences, direct and on topic, then stopped and waited for a follow-up. If none came, he went to the next question. I have rarely heard a major public figure who so clearly knew what he wanted to say about topics.

Even at age 90, he followed current events closely. In responding to student questions, he would often link events from the 1940s or 1950s to events in the 2000s. As an economist, I might also note that he knew his economics. At one point after a formal dinner with many campus dignitaries, he became a bit bored. We had a rather intense 10-minute discussion, in which it became clear that he was as well briefed as anyone I’d talked with.

While Ford spent many years in a series of powerful positions, ending with the presidency, it is a testimony to his character that he stayed open to listening and learning from others. I am proud to be dean of a school at the University that bears his name.

Rebecca Blank
Dean of the Ford School of Public Policy

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