Ford remembered for healing nation post-Watergate

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- 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

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."