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Written by Ed Lengel

Gerald Ford’s Children

President Gerald R. Ford

Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. (1913-2006), served less than two-and-a-half years as president of the United States, but his partial term in office was as important as any other Chief Executive.

He was the only unelected president in American history.

Ford in college

Born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., in Omaha, Nebraska, his name was changed when his mother married his adoptive-father-to-be in 1917. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Ford was a standout athlete, captain of his football team, and a Navy veteran of World War II.

Ford entered Congress in 1949, became House Minority Leader in 1965—and—held the position until President Nixon selected him as his vice president in 1973. Less than a year later, Nixon resigned during the Watergate scandal, and Ford catapulted to the presidency. He lost the 1976 election to the relatively unknown Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, and left office in January of 1977.

Newlyweds Gerald and Betty Ford

Ford married Elizabeth “Betty” Bloomer on October 15, 1948; born in Chicago, but she grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, worked as a fashion model, studied dance with Martha Graham—and by the time she met Ford—was divorced. In those days that was a possible liability for a potential politician—but the couple had a strong marriage, four children, and Ford was able to ascend in congress.

Betty Ford’s 1974 mastectomy, and her painful–but eventually successful struggles to beat back alcohol and drug abuse after her husband left the White House—turned her into symbol of inspiration for women—and men–throughout the country.

 

Michael Gerald Ford

Michael Gerald Ford: Born on March 14, 1950, in Washington, D.C., Mike Ford went to T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va.; then Wake Forest University, where he was president of Sigma Chi fraternity. He graduated cum laude, in 1972. While he was there, Ford met Gayle Ann Brumbaugh. Afterwards, they augmented their studies at the L’Abri nondenominational Christian community in Switzerland. The couple married in Catonsville, Md., on July 6, 1974—just a month before his father became president of the United States. Mike Ford and his wife then went on to attend the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., from which he would get a Master’s in Divinity in 1977.[1]

Mike Ford mostly steered clear of national politics. But, after Nixon’s resignation, he did speak out on the moral implications of what he had witnessed, saying he “would like to see Richard Nixon speak out, [and] make a total confession of what was his role in Watergate. . . . I think a time of confession is hard for everyone. I would hope it would come from any individual.” To him, Watergate “just proved that the day-to-day nature of man is in opposition to what God would intend.”[2]

After completing the seminary, Mike Ford joined the Coalition for Christian Outreach at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1981 he became its director of student affairs and—later–development. Later, he was chosen to be a trustee at the Gerald R. Ford Foundation in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

He retired from Wake Forest in 2018, and was elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

John “Jack” Gardner Ford

John Gardner Ford: Born in Grand Rapids on March 16, 1952, Jack Ford was welcomed into his family–just like all his siblings, as the “most important” event of the year. He attended T.C. Williams High School, graduated in 1970, went to Jacksonville University, Florida; Utah State University; and studied forestry while serving as a firefighter during the summer. In 1976 he campaigned hard for his father’s presidency, but also appeared—to others– as “a young man who harbors simple desires.” Aides in Chicago brought wines and champagne for his reception. Then Jack Ford said thanks, but where’s the beer?”[3]

Despite his work on behalf of his father, Jack Ford admitted to not having a competitive personality. Although he had lettered in football, track, and crew in high school–and having received football scholarship offers–he declined all of them: “I wasn’t competitive enough to play college ball. It is too much like making a living.” He added, “Nothing is worth hassling over. I find some way to work around things rather than fight about them.” In 1977 he helped found Outside magazine, and then went on to a successful business career with his company, California Infoplace.

Still, he remained involved in Republican Party politics, and served as executive director of the host committee for the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego, California.

He is married and has two children.[4]

Steven Meigs Ford

Steven Meigs Ford: Born on May 19, 1956 in Grand Rapids, Steve Ford emulated his older brother Jack’s love for the outdoors and his casual persona, choosing as a teenager to get around the Washington, D.C., area on either a motorcycle, or in his yellow jeep. Also, a graduate of T.C. Williams High School, he declined—at the apex of Watergate–the opportunity to attend Duke University, in favor of becoming a ranch hand in the west. Afterwards, he studied range management at Utah State University, and equine studies at California Polytechnic University in Pomona. Steve Ford would later become a rodeo team roper, serve as vice president of the Turfway Park Race Course in Kentucky, and join the board of directors of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.[5]

His career followed a different trajectory, than what was previously indicated; in the early 1980s he fancied the acting business, but declined his first opportunity, which was in the 1978 musical, Grease; overall, he found television more amenable; he took a long-term role in the soap, The Young and the Restless, and some small film parts in Escape from New York, Black Hawk Down, Starship Troopers, and When Harry Met Sally. After he quit, Steve joined the board of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, where he aspired to pass on his father’s vision of leading with “integrity.”

He never married.[6]

Susan Elizabeth Ford

Susan Elizabeth Ford: Born on July 6, 1957, in Washington, D.C., Susan was the only one of the children to spend a significant amount of time in the White House. While her father was still vice president, she volunteered there for a time, selling guidebooks to visitors. Like many of the other presidential daughters, she attended the prestigious Holton Arms school for girls in Bethesda, Maryland; she graduated in 1975 and had her senior prom in the East Room. Unlike the more formal Luci and Lynda Bird Johnson, and Tricia and Julie Nixon–Susan lived “in blue jeans and other casual clothes of girls her age”; she continued to do so in the White House, although she consented to “dress up for ceremonial occasions.” She taught and enjoyed modern dance; and her Siamese cat “Shan Shein” joined the long list of distinguished White House pets. But, to the media, Susan Ford was perceived as “bratty”— and even engaged in a little self-mockery by posing in Subaru commercials in a car named the Brat.[7]

She attended Mount Vernon College for Women [now George Washington University: Mount Vernon Campus] and the University of Kansas before starting a career in photography and journalism with Newsweek and Ladies Home Journal. Later, she wrote two mysteries. In 1979 Susan married secret service agent Charles Vance, who had worked for her father, although her parents were less than warm to the match; he was sixteen years her senior and previously married. They had two daughters prior to their 1988 divorce. Her second husband is Vaden Bales.

Susan Ford has always been particularly devoted to her mother’s legacy, having been a significant help to Betty Ford in her struggles with breast cancer and addiction; she served as Chair of the Betty Ford Center.[8]

 

[1] New York Times, July 6, 1974.
[2] Associated Press, Aug. 12, 1974.
[3] Holland Evening Sentinel, May 13, 1952; Hanford Sentinel, Oct. 13, 1973; Daily Herald (Chicago), March 8, 1976.
[4] Associated Press, Nov. 8, 1973.
[5] Baltimore Sun, Aug. 21, 1974; Fresno Bee, Dec. 28, 2006.
[6] Washington Post, May 19, 2016.
[7] Washington Star-News, Mar. 14, 1974; Baltimore Sun, Aug. 21, 1974.
[8] Boston Globe, Nov. 25, 1979.