GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Gerald R. Ford Foundation held its annual America’s First Ladies event in Grand Rapids Thursday.
The program took an in-depth look at two first ladies, Betty Ford and Pat Nixon, and their contributions in a moderated conversation entitled Lives of Leadership, Courage and Grace.
The program was first imagined by Susan Ford Bales, President Gerald R. Ford and first lady Betty Ford’s only daughter. Ford Bales was one of the guests sharing memories of the first ladies. She was joined by Edward Cox, the husband of Tricia Nixon Cox, the daughter of President Richard Nixon and Pat Nixon; and Patti Matson, who handled press duties for both women.
“The main thing that they both had was this great empathy for people and their kindness,” Matson said of the two women.
Ford Bales talked about the connection between the two first ladies born out of shared experience.
“My mother was close to Pat,” she said. “The had been through so much together, just like my mother became good friends with Nancy Reagan. There are only so many people who have been in this fishbowl that understand where you’re coming from and so they become dear friends. Lady Bird (Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Johnson) was another one who was a dear friend.”
One of those shared experiences was that day that President Nixon was leaving office after resigning and President Ford was about to take office. Edward Cox was there as President Nixon said goodbye to his staff. Cox remembers well the helicopter ride to Andrews Air Base after Nixon resigned.
“Then we got on the helicopter, (the Fords) accompanied us there … and we went on to San Clemente with President and Mrs. Nixon,” Cox recalled. “As we passed by the Washington Monument, the president is there, I’m sitting here and Mrs. Nixon next to him… I said, ‘Mr. President, in 10 years, you’ll be back.’ That’s the kind of person he was and Mrs. Nixon was; they were fighters. Ten years later, by order of Katherine Graham, who booked him to give a speech, he was on the cover of Newsweek saying ‘He’s back.'”
Also Thursday, the Ford Foundation unveiled the new White House Christmas ornament from the White House Historical Association. Each year, the group produces an ornament that recognizes presidents and their time in office. This year, it honors the Ford presidency with an ornament that includes the his Boy Scout troop number (Ford is the only president to reach the rank of Eagle Scout), his jersey number while playing football at the University of Michigan and a picture of the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first of the new Ford class of aircraft carrier.