Today's afternoon editorial meeting was one of those rare occasions. Let me put it this way: President Ford had no detractors at this meeting. Everyone was in a contemplative mood -- the conversation centered around our coverage, and making sure we have the very best elements needed to tell his uniquely American story.
Along the way there were fragments of conversation about him -- the first President, to my knowledge, to model clothing (along with his future wife) for compensation, and also on the sartorial front, the last President to wear a three-piece suit. He was certainly the only President to live (for a short time) in a townhouse in Alexandria -- where the Fords remained while the Nixons' possessions were being emptied out of the residence portion of the White House. One morning, the President left his home in Alexandria for the White House and a reporter asked him what he was carrying. He famously answered, "some shoe trees and my high school annual!" He clearly believed in piecemeal moving.
While I posted some reminiscences late last night that appeared below early this morning, the day
has been dominated by thoughts and discussions of the President and his Presidency. One of my prized possessions here in my New York office (which I showed to my co-workers today) is a photo by David Hume Kennerly of Ford and his beloved dog, Liberty, inscribed to me by the President. I thought of Justice John Paul Stevens, Ford's appointment to the Supreme Court. Today I again researched President Ford's military experience, from the transcript of one of my interviews with him: 47 months in the Navy, most of it on board the combat aircraft carrier Monterey, CBL-26. He had the job of assistant navigator, and for a time the Monterey was attached to Halsey's task force. He was officer of the deck in general quarters, and once during a typhoon he slid across the flight deck and was saved only by hanging on to the narrow steel lip at the edge of the deck. Knowing his Captain would not have turned around for one sailor overboard, he later told me, "I thanked the Good Lord. He took good care of me." He certainly did. Last night I went through my collection of letters that I'd received from him over the past few years, many of them handwritten. I counted my blessings for being fortunate enough in life to have known such a man in the small way that I did. I think the one word I've heard most often today is "decent." When spoken in the context of Jerry Ford, it is high praise indeed.
Tonight we'll devote the majority of the broadcast to President Ford and his memory, and we will have a lot of help remembering him: Andrea Mitchell will be with us, so will Tom Brokaw (NBC's White House correspondent back then, who went on to find steady work), and we'll hear from Ford's personal photographer David Kennerly...and a host of others. President Ford lived to a ripe old age. "Those were good innings," as a friend of mine put it today. Indeed they were. His death is a milestone in American life, just as his was a uniquely American life.
We hope you can join us for what we think will be a special broadcast tonight.