This photo of from left, Rick and Gay Kirkton, myself and Brian in front of the Ford museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a typical case in point of how we roll. Much to Brian's chagrin, I'm always ready for a photo op of one kind or another. I have never said, "Oh, we can get that picture later." I have too near 40 years' experience in newspapers to know that the "later" shot often never happens. You get it when you can.
So of course I say, "Let's get a photo of all four of us in front," before we walk in. And who should appear out of nowhere? A professional photographer who said sure, he'd be glad to capture it. He was passing through for an assignment on the grounds.
There's a serendipity to travel. Not just the photo; not by a long shot. When we were anticipating our couples trip with the Kirktons to Michigan to visit the Ford landmark, I tried to remember back to the 38th President's time in office.
I was a teenager, and recalled something about an assassination attempt (there were two), and that Ford pardoned Nixon, and that his daughter, Susan, had her prom in the White House (she is the exact same age, to the day and year, by the way, as Gay).
But I didn't recall all there was to say about the long-time Congressman-turned President from Michigan. Not even close. So what clever turn of phrase would go on T-shirts in the gift shop of his presidential library and museum?
I asked Brian this a couple weeks before we went and he nailed it!
And with that, I had to pick him up the shirt!
Ford made the statement after being sworn in as vice president in December 1973. The full quote: "I am a Ford, not a Lincoln. My addresses will never be as eloquent as Mr. Lincoln's. But I will do my very best to equal his brevity and his plain speaking."
We spent four-and-a-half hours in the museum, learning about how Jerry Ford wasn't born Jerry Ford. His father was abusive to his mother and she left him. When she later remarried a kind man in Michigan, her oldest son was renamed after his new stepfather.
Jerry went on to become an Eagle Scout, popular football player and one handsome fella, I'll tell you! He coached football at Yale, became an attorney back in his hometown of Grand Rapids, then a Congressman serving a quarter century, later veep for Richard Nixon, then becoming President when Nixon resigned.
He had much to deal with, as does anyone who becomes U.S. President, including the energy crisis, the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the decision (which many fervently disagreed with) to pardon Nixon and allow the country to heal and move forward. It is clear from the bi-partisan testimonies found throughout the building that President Ford had the respect of most everyone, and was considered a good, honest, fair man.
Brian said, "We need Gerald Ford now."
And while he was dealing with the nation's business, he was no doubt experiencing tough times with concern for his wife, Betty, who battled breast cancer and would famously go on to found The Betty Ford Center to help those with addictions. She also survived breast cancer to live several more decades.
Here's a few photos from our trip to the museum.