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Old 12-27-2006, 12:30 PM
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CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush on Wednesday remembered former President Gerald Ford as a "man of complete integrity who led our country with common sense and kind instincts" and helped restore faith in the presidency after the Watergate scandal.

"On Aug. 9, 1974, he stepped into the presidency without ever having sought the office," Bush said. "He assumed power in a period of great division and turmoil. 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."

The president, who personally expressed his condolences in a phone call late Tuesday night with former first lady Betty Ford, called the former president a "man of integrity" who devoted the best years of his life to the nation. Bush said Ford commanded the Oval Office for 2 1/2 years with commonsense and kindness.

Ford "reflected the best in America's character," Bush said.

Ford helped restore Americans' confidence in the White House after President Richard Nixon's downfall in 1974 through the "honorable conduct" of his administration, Bush said.

Bush, who is spending the week at his Texas ranch, made his statement before sunrise inside a hangar at a helipad outlined in blue-green landing lights. Dawn was breaking over the ranch after he finished expressing his sadness over Ford's death.

"Our 38th president will always have a special place in our nation's history," he said.

Later, Bush issued a proclamation directing that American flags be displayed at half-staff at the White House and on all federal buildings, grounds and Naval vessels for 30 days from the day of Ford's death.

He ordered that suitable honors be rendered by the U.S. armed forces under the direction of the secretary of defense. Bush said he would later proclaim a national day of mourning when Americans can pay homage to the memory of the former president.

Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, served in the Ford administration as a diplomat and CIA director. The president borrowed from the troupe of Ford advisers in making up his own presidential team more than a quarter century later.

Vice President Dick Cheney served as Ford's chief of staff, while just departed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld served Ford in the same job.

Cheney called Ford a "dear friend and mentor" and hailed his former boss' role in bringing the nation out of what the vice president called the "greatest constitutional crisis since the Civil War."

"In that troubled era, America needed strength, wisdom, and good judgment, and those qualities came to us in the person of Gerald R. Ford," Cheney said in a statement. "When he left office, he had restored public trust in the presidency, and the nation once again looked to the future with confidence and faith."

Democrats and Republicans alike recalled Ford's willingness to work across party lines.

"President Ford was one of the kindest, most sincere elected officials whom I have known and with whom I have worked," said longtime Sen. Robert Byrd (news, bio, voting record), D-W.Va. "Although he and I were from different political parties, we often were able to find common ground and work together for our country."

Rep. John Dingell (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., who served with Ford in the House, praised the former president for his commitment to his wife Betty and family.

"Jerry was warm gentle, friendly, pleasant courteous individual. He never used bad language, he loved his family, his kids and above all else he loved Betty," Dingell said.

Former Republican Sen. Bob Dole from Kansas, Ford's running mate in 1976, said Ford could be described in three words: "A good man." "He was a friend to everyone who met him," Dole said. "He had no enemies."

White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten notified Bush about Ford's death shortly before 11 p.m. EST after getting the news from Ford's chief of staff. Deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said Bush, who is scheduled to return to Washington on Jan. 1, will attend the funeral.
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