January 3, 2007
Gerald Ford lived a life of integrity
On Feb. 1 and 2, 1990, my wife, Jane, and I hosted President Ford, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of our Monterey-based leadership development firm, Dimension Five Consultants Inc. Twenty-five of our clients, senior executives from around the United States, accepted our invitation to participate in a two-day "Talking with Leaders" symposium.
We wanted to bring in a guest who had dealt with hard issues and would be willing to share his wisdom. Gerald Ford fulfilled our expectations - and more.
We selected him because, as James Cannon, a White House aide to Ford, wrote in an essay recalling that tumultuous time: " ... When the embattled president, Richard M. Nixon, was finally engulfed by the Watergate scandal and forced to resign himself, it was the unimposing 'gentleman from Michigan' who inherited the leadership of a deeply troubled nation. More than any other president of this century, Ford was chosen for his integrity and trustworthiness: His peers in Congress put him in the White House because he told the truth and kept his word."
For two days at our symposium, a gracious and thoughtful Ford confirmed that he fully grasped the issues that surrounded his complicated presidency. He shared his thought process that enabled him to pardon a discredited President Nixon, with the full knowledge that such an action might lead to his losing his own bid for election. And it did. But his thinking was that for the good of the nation, his personal aspirations were secondary. Riveted to his every word, attendees nodded the knowing nod reserved for those admired for their quiet and remarkable courage. He offered no remorse or regret, only a resolution that commitment to the larger good is always best.
Immediately after thanking our attendees for their respectful questions, many of which were geared to domestic and global economic challenges, Ford offered stories about just how difficult it had been for him to manage Henry Kissinger. The net take-away from the Kissinger conversation was that "highly talented individuals, who also possess large egos, require respect and praise in public along side repeated and clear reminders of adherence to operational rules, privately."
Ford then offered insights and reflections about his wife, Betty, and the health issues she faced. As we know, now, her challenges culminated in founding the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs to assist those with drug and alcohol problems.
Throughout memorial services for him over the past week, repeatedly the word "integrity" has been used by both supporters and former adversaries to describe the man and his life. Ford's legacy includes humility, selflessness and healing - important reminders for us all.