Ford held the nation together in difficult times

President Bush hailed Gerald R. Ford for his administration’s honor. His former opponent, President Carter, called him “a man of highest integrity.” And Nancy Reagan hailed his dedication to the country.

In the uncertain days after the Watergate scandal, those qualities were enough.

Ford, who died Tuesday at 93, was remembered for getting and keeping the country on course in shaky times.

Carter, who defeated Ford in 1976, said he was “one of the most admirable public servants and human beings I have ever known.”

“An outstanding statesman, he wisely chose the path of healing during a deeply divisive time in our nation’s history,” Carter said. “He frequently rose above politics by emphasizing the need for bipartisanship and seeking common ground on issues critical to our nation. I will always cherish the personal friendship we shared.”

Though one of his most significant moves — pardoning President Nixon for any crimes committed in office — was widely derided at the time, many have since come to see it as a gesture that healed the country as much as it hurt Ford’s aspirations to be elected president in 1976.

“With his quiet integrity, common sense and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the presidency,” President Bush said in a statement. “The American people will always admire Gerald Ford’s devotion to duty, his personal character and the honorable conduct of his administration.”

Former first lady Nancy Reagan, whose late husband mounted an intraparty challenge to Ford in 1976, praised Ford for his service to the nation during and after his time in office.

“His accomplishments and devotion to our country are vast, and even long after he left the presidency he made it a point to speak out on issues important to us all,” she said.

Ford died at his home in Rancho Mirage, about 130 miles east of Los Angeles, where he retired.

“He accepted the enormous responsibilities of the Presidency during a dark hour in our history, fully knowing the daunting challenge he faced,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said. “No man could have been better suited to the task of healing our nation and restoring faith in our government.”

Alexander Haig, Ford’s former chief-of-staff, said on CNN that Ford “had to bring our country back and make it whole again and he did it with dignity, he did it with great, great skill and sensitivity.”

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press