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"Gerald R. Ford:  Prayers of a Healer"

Kendall Wingrove
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000

Kendall Wingrove is media services manager for the Michigan Senate Majority Communications Office.  He also is a freelance historical writer.  Kendall has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Central Michigan University and a master's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.  He and his wife Molly live in East Lansing, MI with their two children.  The Wingroves enjoy mentoring and have started "Curriculum Beyond the Classroom," an innovative program that helps legislative interns at the Michigan Capitol connect with area professionals in the public and private sectors.

It was almost 1:30 a.m. when Gerald and Betty Ford finally turned off the light and went to bed, ending another long and complicated day in early August 1974 as Watergate unraveled the Nixon presidency.


As they lay there in the darkness, the Fords sensed things were about to change. They began to pray.


"God, give us strength, give us wisdom, give us guidance as the possibility of a new life confronts us.


"We promise to do our very best, whatever may take place.


"You have sustained us in the past.


"We have faith in Your guiding hand in the difficult and challenging days ahead.


"In Jesus' name we pray."


The vice-president concluded with Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."


Recounting the moment in his autobiography, "A Time to Heal," Ford said he had learned that prayer as a child and repeated it many times, especially when facing major challenges.


Within a few days, Ford assumed the presidency. As he stood in the East Room at the swearing-in, the power of prayer was on Ford's mind.


"I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your president by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your president with your prayers," Ford said. "And I hope that such prayers will also be the first of many."


Ford would need those prayers. The nation was divided and he set about healing it. Ford's decision a month later to pardon former President Richard Nixon ignited a firestorm.


"As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate," Ford said.


The country felt no love for Ford's action. He sank in the polls and many cried foul. The pardon most likely cost him the 1976 election.


And yet history has proven that Ford's merciful act had more merit than was first thought. Many of his harshest critics now praise the move.


Such forgiveness illustrates the stark contrast between Nixon and his successor. Ford admitted to having a ferocious temper but learned to manage it.  Nixon's anger at the media and political opponents continued to rage out of control and his administration even compiled "enemies lists."


Nixon's presidency was eventually consumed by this obsession. A quote from his final speech in the White House succinctly serves as his political epitaph: "Never be petty," Nixon said. "Always remember, others may hate you. But those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself."


Ford took a different route. The values he learned in Grand Rapids as a boy stayed with him until the end. When he became the nation's longest-living president in November 2006, his faith remained center stage. "The length of one's days matters less than the love of one's family and friends," he said. "I thank God for the gift of every sunrise and, even more, for all the years He has blessed me with Betty and the children, with our extended family and the friends of a lifetime."


Now that life has ended and a grateful nation bids goodbye. In eulogizing the late president, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said that America "did not need a philosopher king, or a warrior prince, an aloof aristocrat or a populist firebrand. We needed a healer. We needed a rock. We needed honesty and candor and courage. We needed Gerald Ford."


And throughout his days -- as a child abandoned by his biological father, as he washed dishes to earn an education in the Great Depression, as he narrowly survived a typhoon in the Pacific during World War II, and as leader of the free world, Gerald Ford always knew that he needed God's guidance and the blessings of prayer.

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