tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Reflections on the passing of two big political figures

Last month, two big-name political figures died -- Gerald Ford and Jeane Kirkpatrick. I met Steve Ford, Gerald Ford’s son, in October of 2004, and I had a chance to meet Kirkpatrick in 1990.

Ford was in Minneapolis to speak to a business group. I remember speaking to Steve about the fact that his father was adopted, something that was interesting to me as the father of adopted children. Gerald Ford was born in 1913 as Leslie King, Jr., son of a man who physically abused his mother. In the middle of the night, Dorothy Gardner King snuck away from their Omaha home with their only son to escape back to her parents in Illinois. A divorce was filed and the shame of the situation was so great that she had to move out of the area and begin her life anew. She moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., where she met a man named Gerald Ford. He married her and adopted the son, renaming him after himself.

Steve said that the older Gerald Ford “invested in my father’s life.” He praised the senior Ford, saying: “This man was not a blood relative, but he is a man who chose to invest in my father’s life, giving him the character and integrity so that he would be able to handle the presidency in a very unique time in American history. He never lived long enough to see Dad become president. It is love, not blood, which makes a difference in a kid’s life.”

In addition to being the 38th president of the United States, and a long-time Congressman, Gerald Ford was an All-American football player for the University of Michigan in 1934. Even as a college student, Gerald Ford showed great character. Steve Ford explained that the team went undefeated during the 1932 and 1933 seasons. In 1934, Michigan was scheduled to play Georgia Tech University, which was an all-white school at the time. Georgia Tech told the University of Michigan that it would refuse to play against the Wolverines because the team had one black player. The player was Willis Ward, who happened to be Gerald Ford’s roommate. Ford, a senior that year, was so upset by the racism of the Georgia Tech team that Ford said he would not play the 1934 season if Ward sat out the Georgia Tech game. Ward, however, agreed on his own, to sit out the Georgia Tech game and urged Ford to stay on the team. Ford returned to the team, although the Wolverines lost every game that season except the one against Georgia Tech.

Gerald Ford, may he rest in peace.

Kirkpatrick was the first woman to represent the United States before the United Nations. She was a member of President Reagan’s Cabinet and the National Security Council in the 1980s.

I was the communications director for the Minnesota Bankers Association in 1990 and was involved in planning the association’s annual convention in June of that year. Jim Hearon was MBA president in 1989-90 and advocated inviting Kirkpatrick to speak at the convention, which was conducted in Bloomington. So we invited her, and she accepted.

Hearon, who was president of National City Bank in downtown Minneapolis, was intrigued by Kirkpatrick’s philosophical evolution. Early in her career, she was a liberal Democrat, but over time she evolved into a tough-minded conservative. Seated together at a convention luncheon, I remember Hearon asking Kirkpatrick if she would consider a run for president.

During her convention speech, Kirkpatrick spoke about Mikhail Gorbachev and the United States’ relationship with Russia. The comments were particularly timely, as Gorbachev and his charismatic wife Raisa, had visited Minneapolis the day before.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, may she rest in peace.