I am pleased to present this guest post by my wife, Julie Lorenzen.
I just watched the American State funeral service for Gerald Ford, this night of December 30, 2006. I saw the black suits, the stoic, sad first lady, the flag-draped casket surrounded by white flowers and uniformed military personnel. I watched with mild interest, the ruckus around a fainting 84-year-old man and the short delay it caused as formally attired Emergency Medical Personnel rushed to help.
But more importantly, I listened. The most important message that came across was that Gerald Ford was the sort of man the United States needed at the moment he became the 38th President of the United States. Honest. Trustworthy. “Gentle but firm” one eulogist said. Three men gave eulogies. Vice-president Cheney spoke last. “He did not work it, he just worked,” Cheney said about Ford and the lengthy political career he embarked upon.
The adjective that stood out amongst those used to describe Ford, was the word “ordinary.” I don’t know who said the word. I believe it was a commentator on an ABC affiliate channel who was speaking as people left the service. Anyway, the point is, someone called Ford an “ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life.”
Ordinary? A man who played center for a University of Michigan football team which won a national championship is not ordinary. Anyone who follows college football has an idea about the kind of commitment, talent and teamwork it takes to be an individual voted most valuable player on a national championship team.
But ordinary? A man who manages to escape being swept off a ship during a typhoon in World War II is not ordinary. Being a 93-year-old World War II vet is also not an ordinary feat.
Further, a man whose only political aspiration is to be Speaker of the House is not ordinary. He never asked to be president. He was asked to be vice president, agreed and ended up being a president. He was the only president out of the 43 presidencies who was not elected to the Executive Branch. He was hand-picked by his predecessor.
It is a schmaltzy time when someone like Gerald Ford dies. We, the writers, reporters, commentators, all want to do him justice. We try to be poetic. Sometimes, the people watching or listening or reading, even though they may respect the honored person, get a bit tired of hearing puffed-up adjectives and the same sentimentalities over and over.
We keep hearing how Gerald Ford restored confidence in the presidency after Richard Nixon resigned. It’s almost a clichéd thing to write about at this time. I was too young to remember when Ford took over for Nixon. But that was the aspect of Ford’s life that the media has chosen, perhaps rightly so, to use to define the man who led the country for just under nine hundred days. An ordinary aspect of an ordinary man’s life? Not at all.
Ford seems to have been the type of man who would have appreciated the word ordinary being used to describe him. It is a humble, modest word used to describe a humble, modest man. But Ford was not ordinary. He was an extraordinary man who lived an extraordinary life. An ordinary man is one who sits in his chair and watches the news instead of being part of it, as Gerald Ford was tonight. I can only assume that what the commentator meant by calling Ford ordinary was that the former United States president did not have the golden aura of inapproachability about him that someone would say was extraordinary.
By Julie Lorenzen