Former U.S. President Ford Hailed as Selfless Leader
President Bush hailed Gerald R. Ford for his administration's honor. Ford's former opponent, President Carter, called him "a man of highest integrity," and former President Clinton cited his strength and humility.
"Jerry Ford was, simply put, one of the most decent and capable men I ever met," the first President Bush said.
In the uncertain days after the Watergate scandal, those qualities were what the nation was looking for.
"With his quiet integrity, common sense and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the presidency," President Bush said in a statement to the nation from his Texas ranch Wednesday. "The American people will always admire Gerald Ford's devotion to duty, his personal character and the honorable conduct of his administration."
Ford, who died Tuesday at 93, was remembered for getting and keeping the country on course in shaky times.
"An outstanding statesman, he wisely chose the path of healing during a deeply divisive time in our nation's history," Carter said. "He frequently rose above politics by emphasizing the need for bipartisanship and seeking common ground on issues critical to our nation. I will always cherish the personal friendship we shared."
Though one of his most significant moves -- pardoning President Nixon for any crimes committed in office -- was widely derided at the time, many have since come to see it as a gesture that healed the country as much as it hurt Ford's aspirations to be elected president in 1976.
Nixon's daughter Patricia Nixon Cox offered her "heartfelt sympathy" to the Ford family, saying: "History will honor Gerald Ford as a good man who became the respected leader of the Free World in unique times."
"My father had deep respect for Gerald Ford as an honorable and dedicated public servant," she said.
President Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, said their prayers were with the Ford family.
"Gerald Ford brought Americans together during a difficult chapter in our history with strength, integrity, and humility," the Clintons said. "All Americans should be grateful for his life of service.
"To his great credit, he was the same hardworking, down-to-earth person the day he left the White House as he was when he first entered Congress almost 30 years earlier."
Former first lady Nancy Reagan, whose late husband mounted an intraparty challenge to Ford in 1976, praised Ford for his service to the nation during and after his time in office.
"His accomplishments and devotion to our country are vast, and even long after he left the presidency he made it a point to speak out on issues important to us all," she said.
Ford moved to California after leaving the White House, but his ties to his native Michigan remained strong, and in his boyhood home of Grand Rapids, a steady stream of people lit candles and placed flowers outside the Gerald R. Ford Museum on Wednesday. The museum opened condolence books for visitors to sign.
"The country was in scandal and war and he used the opportunity to heal the country and become one of the most important people in history," said Joseph B. Niewiek, 31, a used car lot owner from Grand Rapids, who lit a candle at the museum.
From Europe, German President Horst Koehler offered his "deeply felt condolences" and described Ford as "a great American," and Czech President Vaclav Klaus called Ford "an outstanding politician" whose work "was instrumental for freedom in my country and for the fall of the iron curtain in Europe."
The New York Stock Exchange also honored Ford with two minutes of silence before the start of trading Wednesday morning.
Democrats and Republicans alike recalled Ford's willingness to work across party lines.
"President Ford was one of the kindest, most sincere elected officials whom I have known and with whom I have worked," said longtime Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
"No man could have been better suited to the task of healing our nation and restoring faith in our government," California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said.
Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as Ford's chief of staff, also praised him.
"In that troubled era, America needed strength, wisdom, and good judgment, and those qualities came to us in the person of Gerald R. Ford," Cheney said in a statement. "When he left office, he had restored public trust in the presidency, and the nation once again looked to the future with confidence and faith."