Gerald Ford: Family Life

Gerald Ford: Family Life

President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty Ford, had three sons and one daughter. The First Family struck many Americans as fun, energetic, youthful, and, above all, normal—traits that added to the American public's comfort level with Ford, a man the people had not elected as their President.

The Fords' oldest son, Michael Gerald, was born in 1950. When his father became President, Michael was a student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and had recently married. John "Jack" Gardner Ford, born in 1952, was a student at Utah State University during Ford's presidential years and worked during the summer as a ranger at Yellowstone National Park. Steve, born in 1956 and known as the "charmer of the family," put off going to college to work as a ranch hand in Utah, Montana, and Idaho. He later became an actor and starred on the television soap opera, The Young and the Restless.Fords' teenage daughter, Susan Elizabeth, captured the most attention. A high school and then college student during Ford's presidency, Susan was a favorite subject for the press. She traveled with her father on his official trip to China, took up photography under the tutelage of White House photographer David Kennerly, and worked during the summer of 1975 as a news photographer with a Topeka, Kansas, newspaper.

Ford's children supported their father and even campaigned for him in 1976, but they also frequently displayed their political independence. Ford's eldest son Michael openly criticized the Nixon administration's handling of the Vietnam War as well as his father's pardon of the former President. Jack Ford made headlines by bringing a former member of the Beatles, George Harrison, to the White House. The children also chafed at the Secret Service protection assigned to them.

As President, Ford still found time to relax. He enjoyed all kinds of sports and especially liked fishing, golfing (18 handicap while President), swimming, tennis, horseback riding, and taking the family on skiing trips to Vail, Colorado. Although he took a lot of kidding from comedians for a presumed lack of physical coordination, he was in excellent health and was certainly one of the most athletic of all the nation's Presidents. He exercised with weights every day in his White House study and played tennis regularly with his family or his staff. Ford remained an avid sports fan and was especially fond of football.

Assassination Attempts

Ford emerged unhurt after two separate assassination attempts in 1975, both of which occurred in California. On September 5, as Ford greeted well-wishers outside the Senator Hotel in Sacramento, California, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme—aged twenty-six and a follower of mass-murderer Charles Manson—leveled a Colt .45 at the President and squeezed the trigger at point-blank range. The gun misfired, and Fromme was wrestled to the ground before she could attempt a second shot. A little more than two weeks later, on September 22, Sara Jane Moore—aged forty-five and a one-time FBI informer—fired a .38 revolver at Ford in San Francisco. The shot missed Ford by a few feet. Both women were convicted under the 1965 law making attempted assassination of the President a federal offense punishable by life imprisonment.