Former President Gerald Ford has died at the age of 93.

gerald r. ford, originally uploaded by Jeffrey K.

Dec. 27 (Bloomberg) — Gerald R. Ford, who became the 38th U.S. president in 1974 when the Watergate scandal forced Richard Nixon from office, has died. He was 93.

Ford’s pardon of Nixon a month after becoming president hurt his popularity and contributed to his defeat in the 1976 election.

“For a nation that needed healing, and for an office that needed a calm and steady hand, Gerald Ford came along when we needed him most,” President George W. Bush said today at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Ford led with “common sense and kind instincts,” Bush said.

Former first lady Betty Ford made the announcement of her husband’s death late yesterday at their home in Rancho Mirage, California, where the former president died. No cause of death was given.

Ford, in declining health, was hospitalized several times in the past year and most recently in October for tests at the Eisenhower Medical Center in California. He was the longest-lived former U.S. president, overtaking Ronald Reagan on Nov. 12.

Ford “died peacefully” at 6:45 p.m. California time, his office said in a statement said.

Betty Ford said through a spokesman that the family was “touched beyond words” by the tributes paid to her husband. “These kindnesses have made this difficult time more bearable,” Mrs. Ford said through spokesman Gregory Willard.

Funeral Ceremonies

Ford’s funeral ceremonies will start Dec. 29 with a private, family service at St. Margaret’s Church in Palm Desert, California, Willard said. Following that will be a visitation period for close friends, and then a period of public repose.

On Dec. 30, Ford will be flown from the Palm Springs, California, airport to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C. After a ceremony there, the casket will be taken in a motorcade to the Capitol, stopping for a time at the World War II Memorial, Willard said.

The casket will be carried into the Capitol up the east steps of the House for a state funeral to begin at about 7 p.m., he said. Ford will then lie in state in the Capitol rotunda before being moved to the National Cathedral for a 10:30 a.m. funeral service on Jan. 2.

After the service, the casket will be taken back to Andrews Air Force Base for a flight to Grand Rapids, Michigan. A short ceremony will follow at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, followed by a period of public repose, Willard said.

Before the Jan. 3 burial at Ford’s presidential library, a final service will be conducted at Grace Episcopal Church, where the Fords were married in 1948. Ford will be entombed on a hillside near the museum, Willard said.

Paying Tribute

Bush ordered the American flag flown at half staff at the White House and all federal buildings for 30 days.

Vice President Richard Cheney, who had served as Ford’s chief of staff, said in a statement that Ford was a “dear friend and mentor” who “embodied the best values of a great generation: decency, integrity and devotion to duty.”

Ford became president on Aug. 9, 1974, immediately after Nixon’s resignation under threat of impeachment.

“Our long national nightmare is over,” Ford declared and pledged to rebuild confidence in government institutions and the struggling U.S. economy. “I assume the presidency under extraordinary circumstances. This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.”

Ford projected calm during a period of high inflation, looming energy shortages and a waning war in Southeast Asia. Ford, a Republican, lost his bid to win a full term in 1976 to Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Appointed Vice President

On Inauguration Day, Carter began his speech: “For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.”

Ford was in his 13th term as a Michigan congressman and was the House Republican leader when Nixon appointed him in December 1973 as vice president. He replaced Spiro Agnew, who quit amid bribery charges stemming from his time in office as Maryland governor. It was the first use of the U.S. Constitution’s 25th Amendment to fill a vice presidential vacancy, an amendment Ford helped get enacted.

Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment proceedings over White House attempts to obstruct an investigation into the 1972 burglary of Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington. Ford was the first, and only, unelected president in the nation’s history.

Pardoned Nixon

On Sept. 8, 1974, a month after taking office, he pardoned Nixon for any crimes he might have committed as president, although no formal charges were pending.

Ford told the country in a speech that Watergate was “an American tragedy.”

“It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it,” he said. “I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must.”

While he was criticized at the time for undermining the inquiry into the Watergate burglary and its cover-up by issuing the pardon, his actions to overcome Watergate were later applauded.

Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, one of those critics, later recanted and acknowledged as much today. Ford’s “courage and dedication to our country made it possible for us to begin the process of healing,” Kennedy said.

Ford won the 2001 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for pardoning Nixon. A bipartisan committee named by the foundation that runs the Kennedy President Library and Museum in Boston made the award.

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