My first vote cast for president was for Ford

Published 4:50 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

By Staff
The Beatles failed to lure me into drug experimentation, but I skipped school for Gerald R. Ford, the first Oval Office occupant I ever saw in the flesh.
The first time I was able to vote for a White House inhabitant, I cast my ballot for Michigan's favorite son Jerry Ford – not Jimmy Carter.
Sorry, Hunter Thompson, but pre-Watergate my most admired president was Richard Nixon. I wrote a term paper about Nixon in high school.
I strived for perfect attendance.
I didn't even head for Warren Dunes on senior skip day.
But on St. Patrick's Day 1975, my final spring at Union High, I did go to the University of Notre Dame for my first live rendition of "Hail to the Chief."
It gave me goose bumps.
At the time it seemed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see an actual U.S. president.
I've managed to see them all since. I shook Carter's hand, interviewed George W. Bush when he visited Dowagiac in December 1987 on behalf of his father's 1988 bid and covered Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton (twice) and George H.W. Bush (twice).
I must have been barpretending at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island when Ford waved from his train in Dowagiac enroute to Niles on May 15, 1976, because I don't remember it.
Ford the Eagle Scout beat out Reagan for the Republican nomination, but lost to Carter for pardoning Nixon to remain our only never-elected chief executive.
Ford's high standing in my memories even withstood watching the University of Michigan athlete become a punchline for clumsiness on "Saturday Night Live," perhaps helped by him having George Harrison over to the White House.
History records that Ford visited Notre Dame to receive an honorary doctor of law degree.
We 10,000 heard in the Joyce Center on March 17, 1975, what turned out to be a major foreign policy speech that still rings true today.
Ford called for continuation of foreign aid programs and a rejection of "new isolationism" because no country can go it alone or withdraw from the world.
"There is no safety for any nation in a hungry, ill-educated and desperate world," Ford said.
Then-president the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh praised Ford for trying to bridge the gulf between government and academia, pointing out that neither Nixon or President Johnson before him "set foot on a first-rate university campus" for a decade.
That's because it would have inspired student protests.
Vietnam was winding down, but not yet over.
As it was, I think a student and faculty group tried in vain to mount a mass walkout.
Students roared applause when Ford directed a remark their way about "the quickie."
That was the shuttle bus that ran up U.S. 31 into Michigan and was a mode of transport for alcohol runs. We could buy alcohol at 18, although I was a sophomore in college before I hit the legal age. Prodigious teen drinking got that repealed about the time we turned 21.
Ford's Notre Dame visit was the third by a sitting president, after Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The circus that follows any presidential motorcade was no different in South Bend, where Ford was greeted by 22 high school marching bands and a crowd estimated at 25,000.
Ford, not yet targeted by two would-be female assassins, even left his limousine to shake hands as he walked along Jefferson Boulevard. I understand I was lucky to hear him, as 4,000 were turned away.
Lucky, indeed.