Gerald Ford, Only Unelected President, Passes Away at 93

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - Gerald Ford, the only person to serve as both vice president and president of the United States without having been elected to either post, passed away late Tuesday.

The 38th U.S. president died at 9:45 p.m. Eastern Time at his home in Rancho Mirage, about 130 miles east of Los Angeles, his office said in a statement, though no cause of death has so far been released. Ford was the longest living president, followed by Ronald Reagan, who also died at 93.

"My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather, has passed away at 93 years of age," former first lady Betty Ford said in a brief statement issued from her husband's office in Rancho Mirage.

"His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country," she added.

Born Leslie King on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Neb., Ford was less than a year old when his parents became divorced, and his mother returned to her parents in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she later married Gerald R. Ford Sr. He adopted the boy and renamed him.

Ford earned a place in the history books as the first unelected vice president. He was chosen by President Richard Nixon to replace Vice President Spiro Agnew, who resigned over a bribery scandal in October of 1973.

Minutes after Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal and flew away from the White House, Ford took office and declared: "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule."

The next morning, he still made his own breakfast and went to the front door in his pajamas to get the newspaper.

However, he revived the debate over Watergate a month later by granting Nixon a pardon for all crimes he committed as president. That act may have cost Ford election to a term of his own in 1976, but it won praise in later years as a courageous act that allowed the nation to move on.

Ford was optimistic even after the two attempts on his life. Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a 26-year-old follower of Charles Manson, was arrested after she aimed a semiautomatic pistol at him on Sept. 5, 1975, in Sacramento, Calif. A Secret Service agent stopped her, and Ford was unhurt.

Seventeen days later, Sara Jane Moore, a 45-year-old political activist, was arrested in San Francisco after she fired a gun at the president. Again, Ford was unhurt.

Both women are still serving life terms in federal prison.

"President Ford was a great American who gave many years of dedicated service to our country," President George W. Bush said in a statement on Tuesday.

"On Aug. 9, 1974, after a long career in the House of Representatives and service as vice president, he assumed the presidency in an hour of national turmoil and division," Bush added. "With his quiet integrity, common sense and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the presidency.

"The American people will always admire Gerald Ford's devotion to duty, his personal character and the honorable conduct of his administration," Bush noted. "We mourn the loss of such a leader, and our 38th president will always have a special place in our nation's memory."

Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as Ford's chief of staff, said his former boss became president after the "greatest constitutional crisis since the Civil War" and gave the country the "strength, wisdom and good judgment" needed at that moment.

The vice president said in a statement that Ford "led an honorable life that brought great credit to the United States of America. Throughout his career, as a naval officer, congressman, vice president and president, Gerald Ford embodied the best values of a great generation: decency, integrity and devotion to duty."

Cheney said that when Ford left office, "he had restored public trust in the presidency, and the nation once again looked to the future with confidence and faith."

"I was deeply saddened this evening when I heard of Jerry Ford's death," former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement of her own. "Ronnie and I always considered him a dear friend and close political ally.

"His accomplishments and devotion to our country are vast, and even long after he left the presidency he made it a point to speak out on issues important to us all," she said.

Funeral arrangements will be announced later on Wednesday.

Make media inquiries or request an interview with Randy Hall.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

E-mail a comment or news tip to Randy Hall.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.