This first published January 5, 2007 in the Henderson Home News, a Community Newspapers of Nevada publication. It is one of several previously published columns that will be posted in the coming weeks.
Former President Gerald R. Ford was one of four U.S. presidents whom I
have had the pleasure to meet in my lifetime. It was the Fourth of July, 1976, the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence.
I was an impressionable 14-year-old with an unusual interest in politics for a kid of any age. Most teens couldn't tell you who is president, much less who the vice president or the speaker of the House is.
It was for this reason that my dad, the late Gov. Mike O’Callaghan, invited me to attend the National Governors Conference in Hershey, Pa., with him and his longtime friend and confidant, the late George Brookman.
During this trip, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime. Well, actually two, but I had to choose between going to the world-famous Hershey Amusement Park or traveling by bus to Valley Forge to hear President Ford give remarks on the “Spirit of Sacrifice” at Valley Forge State Park.
It was an easy decision for me to choose to hear the president of the United States speak. He was campaigning for election to the White House after succeeding President Richard M. Nixon, who had resigned. President Ford defied all political sense and pardoned Nixon for his participation in Watergate only a month after taking office. History has proven it was the right thing to do, even though it cost Ford the election.
Somewhere in my files are the photos I snapped of Marine One, the presidential helicopter, as it flew into Valley Forge State Park and landed on the grass.
With the aid of the Gerald R. Ford Library online, I’m able to give you a taste of the words that so inspired a 14-year old from Nevada.
“As we continue our American adventure… all our heroes and heroines of war and peace send us this single, urgent message: though prosperity is a good thing, though compassionate charity is a good thing, though institutional reform is a good thing, a nation survives only so long as the spirit of sacrifice and self-discipline is strong within its people. Independence has to be defended as well as declared; freedom is always worth fighting for; and liberty ultimately belongs only to those willing to suffer for it.”
It was by chance alone I had the opportunity to meet him at the edge of the stage in one of the most historic places in the United States. It became one of the defining moments in my own history. Although he would never remember me, I have never forgotten that day.
At that moment, I had no idea I would later that evening meet the next president of the United States for the second time. Former President Jimmy Carter, then governor of Georgia and a presidential candidate, would spend a few moments eating barbecue and talking with a skinny kid and his father from Nevada.
Only years later would I realize the significance of that conversation and the impact it would have on the world, including places like Northern Iraq and Nicaragua, where my dad would act as an international observer of free elections for the Carter Center.
As I reflect on the past week surrounding the death and then state funeral for President Ford, I find myself not only inspired by his life and character, but in his death I see that we have the opportunity to appreciate the fruits of his life and character. We see it combined with the graciousness of his wife, Betty, and in their adult children.
As I watched on television as Americans viewed this president lying in state, I could see the great impact being made as his children greeted each visitor who passed by the casket with great dignity and appreciation.
Today America is a better place because of President Gerald R. Ford, not only for his actions in life but because, in his death, those actions have been recalled for the benefit of every American to learn from.
Even a 45-year-old man, a former skinny kid, from Nevada.
Tim O’Callaghan, co-publisher of the News, can be reached at 990-2656 or firstname.lastname@example.org.