Speaker after speaker stepped to the podium at a memorial Friday to praise University alum and former U.S. President Gerald Ford, who died in December of last year.
They called him cool, calm, normal and forever devoted to the state and University of Michigan.
They spoke in Weill Hall, home of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
The ceremony was split into two sections: Ford’s political legacy and his personal legacy.
Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who held that position under George W. Bush and also worked in the Ford administration, spoke twice, first on his professional relationship with Ford and later about his personal relationship with him.
O’Neill warned about the perilous state of health care and Social Security obligations decades down the road. Unlike other presidents, Ford was willing to tackle these issues despite the unwillingness of the country to discuss issues of saving, O’Neill said.
Allen Sinai, a private sector economist, outlined the challenges Ford faced upon taking office, emphasizing the high inflation and unemployment that plagued the country after the 1973-74 Mideast oil embargo. His speech emphasized Ford’s instinctual, level-headed way of approaching tough problems.
“He probably entered (economic issues) as he entered the football stadium,” Sinai said. “Cooly, calmly, resolved to make things better in his own way.”
Athletic Director Bill Martin discussed the legacy of the 1975 Title IX legislation signed by Ford that banned gender-based discrimination in athletics. The law had especially wide-ranging effects on college athletics, giving thousands of women the opportunity to participate in sports.
Nancy Hogshead-Maker, a former Duke University and Olympic swimmer, spoke about the importance of the legislation to her athletic career.
“Without this legislation,” she said, “none of that would have mattered.”
The second part of the event featured speakers who told stories about their time with the president, emphasizing Ford’s humble nature and devotion to the University.
Martin Allen, chairman emeritus of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, which provides support to Ford’s presidential library in Ann Arbor and museum in Grand Rapids, had tears in his eyes as he recalled the $5 bets Ford loved to make on University football games.
“(Former Secretary of State Henry) Kissinger once said that he’s as close to normal as you get in a president,” Allen said.
University President Mary Sue Coleman spoke about the “absolute faith (Ford) had in Michigan” during and after his time here. She said he showed it by stopping in Ann Arbor to watch a football game during his honeymoon, bringing famous speakers like Kissinger and former President Jimmy Carter to lecture and placing his presidential library on North Campus.
“He never relinquished his University ties,” Coleman said.
The former president’s son, Mike Ford, said his father still has a place at the University.
“He is very present in this place,” he said.
He also promised listeners a visit from his mother, Betty Ford, as soon as she is physically able.
The audience in Annenberg Hall was made up mostly of those who knew the former president, University faculty and students of the School of Public Policy.
“I thought I should learn about my school’s namesake,” said Lisa Rothbard, a first-year Public Policy graduate student.
Many of the speeches lauded Ford for lending his name to the public policy school.
“There is no greater honor than having a school bear your name,” Ford said in a statement about last year’s dedication of the public policy building.
During her concluding remarks, School of Public Policy Dean Susan Collins repeated this quote and then turned it around to show that the University had the same pride in Ford that he had in the University.
“There is no greater honor for a school than to bear the name of Gerald R. Ford,” she said.