Gerald Ford | Jimmy Carter | News | Oliver Sipple | Republican Party

Former President Gerald Ford is Dead at 93

Ford_2Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the United States and the only president to have never been elected, has died at 93. He will most likely be remembered for reuniting a country ravaged by the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam war.

Sworn in just minutes after Richard Nixon was airlifted into exile, Ford told the country, "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule."

Ford's later pardon of Nixon is widely thought to have cost him the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter.

Said Ford: "The political lesson of Watergate is this: Never again must America allow an arrogant, elite guard of political adolescents to by-pass the regular party organization and dictate the terms of a national election."

Ford was also the first unelected vice president, chosen by the man he would replace after Spiro Agnew left office in disgrace over tax evasion and money laundering.

Allow me to digress for a moment, for although this might be a footnote in his general biography, it should certainly be of interest to readers here.

Ford might have died on September 22, 1975, when an attempt was made on his life by Sara Jane Moore outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, less than three weeks after a similar assassination attempt was made by Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme in Sacramento.

OliversippleThis time Ford's life was saved by Oliver Sipple (see photo), a former Marine who lunged at Moore, deflecting the intended bullet. Sipple was instantly commended but the incident inspired curiosity about the former soldier and it was revealed by Harvey Milk that he was a gay man, a fact that was not known by either his employer or his family. The resulting attention (Harvey Milk, who wanted to show that gay men were not all child molesters and perverts, anointed him a gay hero, inspiring a widely-syndicated write-up from noted columnist Herb Caen) freaked his mother enough to cause her to disown him. At the time Sipple pleaded with reporters: "I want you to know that my mother told me today she can't walk out of her front door because of the press stories...My sexual orientation has nothing to do with saving the President's life."

Sipple battled the "outing" in court for the next nine years, a battle that was never won. It may have cost the man his sanity. Sipple was found in his San Francisco apartment in February 1989 next to a bottle of booze. Alcoholic and obese, he had been dead for two weeks.

Gerald Ford did not attend the funeral and instead sent family and friends a letter of condolence. He was criticized by some who said that were Sipple heterosexual he would have been treated differently. Ford told journalist Deb Price in a 2001 interview: "As far as I was concerned, I had done the right thing and the matter was ended. I didn't learn until sometime later — I can't remember when — he was gay. I don't know where anyone got the crazy idea I was prejudiced and wanted to exclude gays."

ADDENDUM: A reader sent in this snippet, clipped from another Deb Price column on Ford, written five years ago:

"Former President Gerald Ford believes the federal government should treat gay couples the same as married couples, including providing equal Social Security and tax benefits. Ford's views, expressed in an exclusive telephone interview, make him the highest-ranking Republican ever to endorse equal treatment for gay couples. 'I think they ought to be treated equally. Period, Ford declared. Asked specifically whether gay couples should get the same Social Security, tax and other federal benefits as married couples, he replied, I don't see why they shouldn't. I think that's a proper goal.' Now 88, Ford was a longtime Michigan congressman and Republican leader of the U.S. House before being appointed vice president and then rising to the presidency in 1974 after Richard Nixon's resignation. From his office in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Ford comfortably discussed a range of gay issues. He said he supports federal legislation to outlaw anti-gay job discrimination: 'That is a step in the right direction. I have a longstanding record in favor of legislation to do away with discrimination.'"

Ford was only in office for 895 days, but lived longer than any U.S. president. His wife, Betty, issued a brief statement from their home in California: ''My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather has passed away at 93 years of age. His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country.''

Former President Ford Dies at 93 [nyt]
Former President Gerald Ford dies [ap]

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    Posted by: Bobby | Dec 27, 2006 1:43:12 AM

  2. Ford was not the only predident "never to have been elected." The current one in office was not elected (recall the stolen 2000 presidential election).

    Posted by: JohnnieB | Dec 27, 2006 8:00:05 AM

  3. Andy, one thing you don't go into except by inference is the consequences of outing someone.

    Men whose circumstances or psychological make-up have allowed them to be out and proud sometimes are intolerant of the closeted, under the blanket assumption that they're self-loathing cowards; such may be very far from the real reason. Unless one is certain (as with Ted Haggard) that the person is hiding behind a false heterosexuality to wreck damage on gays, I am not in favor of outing.

    The Oliver Sipple situation is a case in point. Harvey Milk might have considered the serious consequences to a Lyndon Johnson Whitehouse staffer who was publicly outed and who lost job, reputation and family not too many years previously. Being gay in a position close to the President simply wasn't an option at that time. Outing Sipple destroyed him.

    Posted by: Will | Dec 27, 2006 8:06:52 AM

  4. WILL, I couldn't agree more. I made the exact same comments in reference to the current outing of celebrities and certain political figures.

    I have to say I learn something new from your blog every day. I had no idea about the history involving Oliver Sipple. Thank you for letting me be a member of this community, reading your blog had become a part of my daily routine.

    Posted by: Cory | Dec 27, 2006 9:04:16 AM

  5. Ford was no Goldwater, but at least he was no McCarthy either.

    Posted by: Karim | Dec 27, 2006 9:19:09 AM

  6. Wow. I never knew that he was saved by a gay man. I feel sorry for Mr. Sipple. I wonder how his life might have been if he was allowed to come out on his own terms. I'm thankful that my friends encouraged me to come out when I wanted and didn't do it for me.

    Posted by: Matt | Dec 27, 2006 9:41:51 AM

  7. will

    there is this little thing called the "passage of time"

    dates designate things that happened at different points in time

    when time progresses...... things change, people change, society changes...

    Outing someone years ago becomes quite a different experience to outing someone today....

    One can not draw a direct correlation between outing decades ago to outing todAY WHERE THERE IS A HUGE SUPPORT SYSTEM, CULTURE, VISIBILITY, and perception change within society from what it was like in the past.

    Due to the passage of time....people in the closet today are just weak as vs decades ago where it might have preserved someone's life.

    Please study more about time, the passage of time, dates to designate the passage of time, and how things change as time progresses.


    Posted by: jimmyboyo | Dec 27, 2006 9:41:55 AM

  8. That Sipple saved his life, but Ford couldn't go to his funeral just shows how impersonal and inhuman he really was. He seemed aimiable enough, but then again, so did Reagan.

    Posted by: woodroad34 | Dec 27, 2006 9:53:40 AM

  9. Well said, Jimmy.

    People, lets spell things out very clearly: Sipple's outing happened in 1975, that is, for those not so good with math, *31* years ago.

    To compare outing then with outing now is simply absurd.

    Posted by: just sayin' | Dec 27, 2006 9:55:41 AM

  10. I'm sorry. But outing is outing. It shouldn't be done to anyone 2 days ago or 31 years ago. While Mr. Sipple may not have faced the same type of circumstances today that he did in 75, the decision to come out still remains one of the most personal and hard things for any gay man to do and should remain that person's right to do it whether he wants to or not.

    Posted by: Matt | Dec 27, 2006 10:20:00 AM

  11. Speaking of outing.... wasn't there talk years ago about one of Ford's sons? Hanging out at Uncle Charlie's in NYC?
    Whatever happened to that? Is he attached now?

    Posted by: pete | Dec 27, 2006 10:31:48 AM

  12. Just Sayin

    You summed it up perfectly (in far fewer words than I)

    Posted by: jimmyboyo | Dec 27, 2006 10:41:03 AM

  13. I think it's unfortunate that that's the only quote you chose to use from the Deb Price interview. From The Washington Blade:

    When asked by Price if gay couples should receive the same economic benefits as married couples, such as Social Security and tax deductions, Ford said, "I don’t see why they shouldn’t. I think that’s a proper goal. ... I think they ought to be treated equally. Period." Ford told Price he applauds President Bush’s decision to appoint three openly gay officials to his administration. "I have always believed in an inclusive policy, in welcoming gays and others into the (Republican) party," Ford said in the interview. "I think the party has to have an umbrella philosophy if it expects to win elections."

    Whatever you might think of that one incident, it's important that his fuller story be told. His remarks make me hope the Republicans are smart enough to nominate someone like him in '08. But I won't hold my breath.

    Posted by: Malcontent | Dec 27, 2006 11:04:20 AM

  14. In retrospect, pardoning Nixon is not as bad as appointing Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, but...

    I think we can also thank Mr. Ford for Donald Rumsfeld.

    The nostalgia for Republicans who were not the ideologues of today's party is misplaced. Country-club republicans were just less mean-spirited in their disregard for the have-nots and other minorities.

    Whatever happened to Steven Ford? We all had a crush on him in the 1970s.

    Posted by: John | Dec 27, 2006 11:12:14 AM

  15. If the truth of you is that you're gay - how is someone telling the truth a wrong thing?

    It may be uncomfortable and certainly in the past dangerous, but the truth does want to be told. On an individual level (i.e. non-public person) I can accept not outing someone, but if you are a celebrity or a political figure, especially one who would have the public believing one thing while they actually behaved in another way - well, that's just wrong.

    As for Gerald Ford, I wonder what would have happened had he not pardoned Nixon. How would that have changed people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld?

    BTW - wasn't the Oliver Sipple story the subject of a movie not too long ago? It's not like this was a secret.

    Posted by: hoya86 | Dec 27, 2006 11:19:00 AM

  16. File under the category, "Who knew?" How in the hell Andy uncovered this is wild. But it is terrible. The man distinctly pleaded not to be outed; he sued Herb Caen among others and lost, and his life was ruined. It's a terrific movie (Jeff Bridges as Sipple) and it really does invite a discussion about outing. And while one may romanticise the past or even the story, the fact is a man's life was ruined, needlessly, because as we can clearly see today, if it hadn't been for Andy, few of us would even know about it.

    Posted by: randy | Dec 27, 2006 11:33:59 AM

  17. Funny. I was least affected by the outing part of this story. What got to me is that Sipple's mother disowned him.

    Here is a man who (figuratively) threw himself in front of a bullet for his President and dear ole' Mom is more concerned about what he does with his wee wee than the fact that her son is an American hero.

    I know this was a different time, but look at what the military is doing now -- discharging gay men and women who possess skills vital in a time of war.

    The message is chillingly clear: We don't care what you do or can do for our country.

    You are not human.

    Posted by: mark m | Dec 27, 2006 11:34:13 AM

  18. Closet=Deception,Lying,Hypocrisy and serves nobody and makes ALL gays appear weak and pathetic and always will.
    Out of Closet=Honesty,Truthfulness and Integrity.
    Having been openly gay for 25 years I happen to be one of those gay men who has no tolerance for closeted gay men, Especially in 2007! JimmyBoyo,Justsayin' and Hoya86 I appreciate your comments.

    Posted by: Shawn | Dec 27, 2006 11:45:12 AM

  19. Shawn, did you come out on your own terms or were you outed 25 years ago? You said Out of the closet=honesty, truthfulness, and integrity. I would completely agree with you. Too bad for Mr. Sipple it also meant loneliness, alcoholism, and misery. And to the comments about Mr. Sipple being a public figure and should be outed. I would bet that when he jumped in front of the bullet he did not intend to become a celebrity nor have his life smeared for an act of patriotism.

    Posted by: Matt | Dec 27, 2006 11:58:50 AM

  20. The only appointed U.S. president of our era has died at the ripe old age of 93. He even outlived Reagan. Well played, Mr. Appointed President! And his real name was “Leslie Lynch King, Jr.”

    A Michigan congressman who first gained fame for whitewashing the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Ford was seen as a kindly, sane figure who would take care of matters after Richard Nixon’s spectacular fall.

    But even though Ford was respected by Democrats and Republicans back in the day, and even though he finally ended America’s pathetic horror in Vietnam, historians will remember Gerald Ford as the man who clumsily empowered America’s greatest villains: Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Oh, and he gave a complete pardon to Richard Nixon.

    Cheney and Rumsfeld went from minor-league Nixon Administration players to the most dangerous duo in Washington. And it was all because Gerald Ford trusted them.

    Posted by: lynn | Dec 27, 2006 12:17:45 PM

  21. Truly the end of the original(Yankee)republican party.
    Does Rudy G. really represent the progressive wing of the party now?

    Posted by: brian | Dec 27, 2006 12:37:05 PM

  22. ....Leslie Lynch King Jr...! WTF? are y'all thinking what I'm thinkin? All PC'ness aside, that's too!

    Posted by: yeahisaidit | Dec 27, 2006 1:06:47 PM

  23. I guess there's no gay angle to get James Brown more than a one-line mention.

    Posted by: 000000 | Dec 27, 2006 1:25:49 PM

  24. Matt you say:
    "Shawn, did you come out on your own terms or were you outed 25 years ago? You said Out of the closet=honesty, truthfulness, and integrity. I would completely agree with you. Too bad for Mr. Sipple it also meant loneliness, alcoholism, and misery."

    Betty Ford suffered from the same things you mentioned and none had anything to do with being gay. They all had to do with fighting demons that they both were dulling with booze or drugs. Both were not honest or strong enough to tackle them or trust those around them. Sadly Sipple did not get the support that Betty Ford did from her family and inner circle.

    As for outing people, I still hold the same stance I did when Out Magazine started doing it in the '80's. If you are a public figure and you are gay, you are a public figure and you are gay. If you are a public figure who is Female, Black, Jewish or any other minority they never question that. Why is it only the gay factor?

    I agree with the above posts, despite Pres. Ford trying to heal the country after Nixon and Vietnam, he did hatch both Rummy and the biggest Dick in Washington, Cheney.

    As for his relationship with Sipple, the Whitehouse waited three days to address the issue, while they decided on what to do with the fact he was gay. Ford not going to his funeral, or doing what he could do to support him while he was alive, only cements the fact that he was a homophobe. Which would explain why his son Steven, despite many of us seeing him in Uncle Charlie's, the biggest gay bar in the village back then, stayed in the closet. Google him and all they show is that he went into rehab like his mom, I wonder why, not.

    If someone dove in front a bullet to save my life, they would be a friend for life, let alone a trip to see them off this planet. Actions speak louder than words and Sipple's actions were much more heroic than Ford's ever were.

    Posted by: patrick nyc | Dec 27, 2006 1:35:53 PM

  25. "If you are a public figure and you are gay, you are a public figure and you are gay."
    Anybody even considering a profession in theatre, art, communications, film or media should heed this warning. Once you enter the public domain, your personal life, your personal sex life is open for public discussion and revelation. Mr Patrick NYC, i have but one sentence for you:"Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

    Posted by: warren | Dec 27, 2006 2:01:31 PM

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