Thank you so much. Mr. President, Betty, Mr. Vice President and Lynne, members of the cabinet, past, president and I suspect future trustees of the foundation and so many friends from so many decades ago, I wish the reception had been much longer so I could have gotten around the room to personally say hello to so many friends that have meant so much in Joyce’s life and my life.
And in the introduction, you’ve heard about the day 30 years ago when I was asked to come back. And today we were meeting in the Situation Room in the White House with Colin Powell and Condi Rice and a group of people worrying through some issues with the vice president. And I mentioned to the group that it was 30 years ago that President Nixon resigned and President Ford was sworn in and I arrived at Dulles Airport and it was an important moment in all of our lives -- the transition that took place that day. The vice president’s comment was, “Yeah, Rumsfeld, you were probably wearing the same suit.”
So, Marty, you left off that citation – sense of humor. The vice president has one. This is a very special day and all of us know that. Though President Ford has kindly and characteristically used this occasion to honor others, the evening certainly belongs to him, it belongs to Betty, it belongs to their family and it belongs to the history that they all helped shape. Mr. President, we thank you for that a great deal.
And Betty, the American people have come to love you and understandably so with your refreshing and, on occasion, startling candor, as well as your courage. And you have been and were a full participant in President Ford’s congressional life which Joyce and I knew and Mel Laird and Bob Michel and others I see here today.
You know, as chief of staff for the president, naturally we tried to save the taxpayers dollars and we decided it was important to cut the White House staff. Understandably, we believed that it should be an equal opportunity operation, so we included some cuts in the East Wing. And I briefed the president, asked him to mention it to Betty when he was home that evening.
Showing how wise he was, he said, “Don, I’m all for you. It’s a wonderful plan, but it’s your plan…
… and you go over and tell Betty.” Well, neither Cheney nor Rumsfeld had the guts. We had an agonizing reappraisal and we decided that those reductions weren’t quite as important as we’d thought.
Betty is, indeed, a formidable woman. This hall is filled with people that, Mr. President, you attracted to your administration. And of course, the star of your talented team is sitting next to you – the vice president. And I am certainly very proud to be receiving this award with the vice president. With President Bush, Vice President Cheney has provided our country with strong and thoughtful and steady and, indeed, courageous leadership in very tough times.
I suppose there’s no better setting for remembering the Ford legacy than this historic hall. Sometimes folks overlook the fact that before he became president, Gerald Ford was a skillful strategist and a greatly admired leader of the Congress. Launched into a republican leadership position after a fierce – and I repeat, fierce – intra-party competition, he was nonetheless, one of those rare people in the Congress who had a lot of adversaries, to be sure, but no enemies.
So as we look around here and recognize that the people here in marble and bronze were one time, just people circulating in this building and providing leadership in the country. Today we tell fascinating stories about them. In those days, of course, their stories were yet unfinished. And a century from now I suppose that people will come here and gather to learn more about our country’s history and they’ll remember Gerald Ford and what he did for a country that sorely needed his leadership.
It takes time and distance before one can truly measure an event or even an era and its significance. But those of you here know what the day was like 30 years ago; practically everyone in this room knows. The pressures were enormous, the stakes were high, the world was watching and indeed, the American people were holding their breath, wondering what would be next.
The words that President Ford used to reassure our country and the American people were plain and straightforward. His sincerity made them eloquent. Even in a society coarsened by skepticism and -- indeed, it was the case -- few doubted that the gentleman from Michigan would keep his word and indeed, that was his very special magic.
His countrymen saw the values that make this nation so special in this very good man from middle America -- a World War II veteran with so many friends in the Congress and outside, a golfer who was able to confess that “I know I’m getting better because I hit fewer spectators.”
People thought he was kidding.
But because Gerald Ford was there to reassert the strength of the presidency to rebuild our defenses and to show firmness and clarity and integrity in all things, as well as basic human decency, our country could again hold its head high. He reminded Americans of who they are and he put us on the right path when the way ahead was, at best, uncertain.
And all things considered in the end, those are probably the most lasting contributions any leader can make. Mr. President, Betty, thank you for all you’ve done for our country and for al of the people in this room the privilege of being your friends.
Thank you very much.