On this day in 1913, Gerald R. Ford is born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. in Omaha, Nebraska. His biological father left the family when Ford was three years old. His mother’s second husband, Gerald Ford, adopted the young boy and gave him his name. The young Ford went on to become the first vice president to assume office after a president resigned, after President Richard M. Nixon stepped down in 1974.
The handsome, blonde, blue-eyed Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and went on to play football at the University of Michigan, where he was voted the team’s most valuable player in his senior year. He then worked as an assistant coach for Yale University’s football program while pursuing his law degree. After graduation in 1941, Ford earned extra money as a model. In 1942, just after joining the Navy, Ford appeared on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine in his uniform, but was not officially credited with posing. He went on to serve in World War II from 1942 until the war ended in 1945.
Following the war, Ford began a law practice and became involved in Republican politics. It was during one of his modeling jobs after the war that he met his future wife, Elizabeth Anne Bloomer, who was called Betty. His passion for football was so keen that during their honeymoon in 1948, Ford took his new bride to a Michigan State Rose Bowl playoff game against Northwestern University. That same year, he was elected to Congress; his career included service on the Warren Commission that investigated President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In December 1973, President Richard Nixon chose Ford as his vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned following charges of tax evasion. In 1974, Nixon himself resigned in the face of impeachment by Congress over the Watergate burglary scandal. Ford took the oath of office on August 9, 1974.
On September 5, 1975, in Sacramento, California, a woman named Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme attempted to shoot Ford, but the gun misfired. Seventeen days later, on September 22, Ford narrowly escaped another assassination attempt when Sara Jane Moore tried to kill the president in San Francisco. Fromme, a drug-addled Charles Manson cult follower, and Moore, a mentally unstable former FBI informant who fell into fringe revolutionary politics, both targeted Ford as a symbol of their hatred for the political establishment. Both women were caught and imprisoned for life.
Ford was responsible for governing the nation in the aftermath of the divisive Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. In an effort to put the past behind the nation, he pardoned Nixon immediately upon becoming president. According to White House historians, Ford described his administration’s policies as “moderate in domestic affairs, conservative in fiscal affairs, and internationalist in foreign affairs.”
Ford lost his first official presidential race in 1976 to Democrat Jimmy Carter, but remained actively involved in public policy during his retirement. In 2000, his alma mater, the University of Michigan, honored him by founding the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Ford died on December 26, 2006, at the age of 93.