“This is a very sad time for me. I never really wanted the job. And it was only in the last year or so that I realized I could do it. And the tragedy is that when I really wanted it, I lost it.” – Gerald Ford, shortly after his defeat in the 1976 Presidential election (Shadow, by Bob Woodward)
This past Tuesday, Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States, passed away at his home in Rancho Mirage, California. I wasn’t yet alive during his Presidency, so the only knowledge I have regarding his time in office comes from my history books. Following his defeat in the 1976 election, however, he moved to Rancho Mirage, the town where I was born and raised. Ford and his wife, Betty, were well known for their generosity to various charities in the Coachella Valley, including the local theatre, children’s museum, Bighorn Institute, and, of course, the Betty Ford Center. To show their appreciation, local cities dedicated a main thoroughfare and local elementary school in his honor.
I had the opportunity to meet President Ford several times while I was in middle school. He once came to my school and gave us a lecture on politics and history. Imagine that, the former President of the United States standing before a group of eighty 7th and 8th graders and explaining why he pardoned Richard Nixon. Shortly thereafter, myself, several other students, and Cheryl attended the Indian Wells Town Hall lectures featuring Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough (it was mainly a venue for the wealthier, older citizens, but the Town Hall series always gave out several free tickets to local students). After the dinner following the lecture, President Ford came up to us, signed autographs, and talked with us for several minutes. That man was a real class act.
In recognition of his service to our community, it was only fitting that we bid farewell to President Ford before he was moved from his adopted hometown to Washington DC for the state service and then Grand Rapids, Michigan for his final burial. His service was held this afternoon, with a public viewing to follow. We decided to go at 8pm, figuring the crowds would have thinned by then (the public viewing runs from 4pm to 9am Saturday…yes, you could even go at 3am if you so desired). The service and viewing are being held at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Ford’s local place of worship. I live about half a mile from this church, but they would not allow any pedestrian traffic through (in fact, they had blocked off Highway 74 to all traffic). We had to drive to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, located several miles away.
I ripped all these photos from the AP wire…we couldn’t take cameras
Of course, you had to go through security.
And then wait in line to board a bus to drive you all the way back to the church near my house. The buses were all from the Los Angeles and Orange County public transportation networks, which must have thoroughly confused some of the local drivers.
St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church
Filing into the church
And past the casket and honor guard…
(You’re probably thinking “That’s one fine looking church.” Well, that’s because it was built by one of the most awesome and talented builders in the valley, MY DAD. )
The whole process probably took less than three minutes, and we found ourselves back on our OC bus headed towards the Tennis Garden. Afterwards, we went to TGIFriday’s and held our own little wake for Jerry, complete with tropical drinks and nachos. He woulda wanted it that way.
“I know I’m getting better at golf because I’m hitting fewer spectators.”
Tomorrow I’m heading up to Joshua Tree…and I have some more hiking photos I need to upload