President Gerald R. Ford Tribute
Sept. 28, 2007
Thank you, Dean Collins, and welcome to all of you. This is an important afternoon at the University, made all the more special by your presence.
I especially want to welcome Michael Ford back to campus and thank him for his service to the Ford School.
Mike, the Ford family is very much part of the Michigan family, and we are so pleased you can be with us today to honor your father. Please extend our warmest wishes to your mother, and your sister and brothers.
As we all know, President Ford loved the University of Michigan. He loved that he was a graduate, he loved that he played at Michigan Stadium, and he genuinely loved interacting with our students and faculty.
He also loved to tell the tale of his days as a struggling student, with little money in his pocket and a campus job that had him cleaning tables in the nurses’ cafeteria in the Old Main Hospital.
Now, most alumni would not reflect fondly upon carrying away dirty dishes and half-empty glasses. But President Ford would point out the fringe benefit of his job, and that was the opportunity to collect a few phone numbers from nursing students. Those, he said, always came in handy.
If Jerry Ford’s work-study job came with a few perks, could the University of Michigan have imagined the benefits it would enjoy in return for having Gerald Ford as a student and alumnus?
Regardless of his position in life, this graduate of the Class of ’35 never relinquished his U-M ties. He always wanted Michigan to be a better university than the one he attended.
For his classmates of the 1930s, Jerry Ford was the good-looking center on the football team, the MVP who would be drafted by the pros but instead head to law school. His devotion to the football program was legendary, from attending a game the day after marrying Betty to meeting with players and coaches to provide a few inspiring words before a game.
As a respected congressman, he responded in the positive when asked to make the University of Michigan the archive for his papers. It was a decision that would foreshadow the establishment of a much more critical repository on our North Campus.
For Michigan students fortunate to study here in the late 1970s, Gerald Ford was not only a former president, he was their professor, offering insightful lectures on the art and science of politics.
He also played ambassador and host, attracting such public figures as Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger, and Brent Scowcroft to our campus to enlighten our community.
He was an advocate of opening the doors of higher education, knowing what happens when those doors are blocked because of a person’s skin color, or ethnic heritage, or family income. As a student, he witnessed discrimination with an African American teammate, and later pledged to correct what he called “the cultural and social impoverishment that afflicted my generation.”
Most importantly, Gerald Ford was a philanthropist, and one of the highest magnitude. Not because of the checks he wrote, although there were many and they were generous in supporting our students. Not because of the leadership role he played in our capital campaigns, recruiting volunteers and encouraging them to give, and then to give again.
And not because of the generosity he showed by donating his papers and locating his splendid presidential library on our campus, for use by students and scholars alike.
Gerald Ford was a magnanimous donor because he made the most personal of gifts to the University: he gave us his name. He honored Michigan by allowing the University to honor him, to merge his character with a place he so dearly loved. That he would allow his name to be forever linked with our School of Public Policy demonstrates the absolute faith he had in Michigan to provide an academic program rich in scholarship and integrity.
During one of his many visits to campus, President Ford remarked: “The University has played a very important part in whatever success I have achieved … It will do precisely the same thing for the young people who are on this campus at this time.”
This is how we pay tribute to Gerald Ford, from one generation of students to the next. By offering the education and environment that shapes tomorrow’s leaders, we honor a past president who always—always—focused on the University’s future.