Gerald Ford: An example for other officials

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 3, 2007

For the Salisbury Post

As I have watched the coverage of President Gerald R. Ford’s death, I could not help but reflect upon my experience driving then-Congressman Ford and Congressman Earl Ruth in the Salisbury area as the long-time friends campaigned together for Dr. Ruth’s initial election or re-election to the U.S. Congress, where the future president was serving as the minority leader.

It was a real honor and privilege to listen to them share experiences with each other. I believe they were together at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and possibly in serving their country in the military. Of course, I had no idea that I was driving the future president of the United States and the future governor of American Samoa. Congressman Ruth, after losing his seat in the “Watergate election” in 1974 which saw many Republican congressmen lose their seats because of Nixon’s deplorable conduct, was appointed by his friend to serve in American Samoa. Of course, the same events resulted in Vice President Ford being elevated to the presidency.

I observed up close the qualities being used to describe President Ford today … unpretentious, down-to-earth, plain spoken, caring, compassionate, honest. He brought to the White House qualities which all of our chief executives should emulate. As a veteran of Congress, he shared the same belief which current President Bush brought to Washington in 2001 — that there is a place for partisan politics and it is in the campaign. After the election, public officials should work together for the good of the country and not to try to obtain partisan advantage in preparation for the next election.

Certainly, the statement that “politicians think about the next election, but statesmen think about the next generation” applies to everything that President Ford did in his many years of distinguished public service. Maybe our current public officials in both parties could honor his life best by adopting his philosophy and civility toward ALL people.

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Phil Kirk is vice president of external relations for Catawba College and former chairman of the N.C. Board of Education.