President cherished his ties to Utah

Published: Thursday, Dec. 28 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

President Gerald R. Ford, right, examines a copy of an LDS Scriptures triple combination given to him by LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball in 1977.

Eldon K. Linschoten

Gerald R. Ford may have had closer ties to Utah than any other U.S. president.

His son, Jack, attended Utah State University. Close friends lived in the state and spent the holidays with him for years. He made many trips to Utah before, during and after his presidency. He brought several Utahns to the White House as aides.

After his death Tuesday, those Utah friends remembered him as a man of courage and integrity who helped restore faith in America and its politicians — but even more as a down-to-earth guy who was a good friend.

Christopher Brown remembers with melancholy this particular week after Christmas how his family from Tremonton for years spent the week between Christmas and New Year's with Ford's family.

He said his father, Jim Brown, was a Republican official from Utah who met Ford when the future president was a congressman. "Both families had kids about the same age, and we just hit it off," Brown, now of Malad, Idaho, remembers. "They would come to Utah to ski with us, and we would go to Vail, Colo., to ski with them. It cemented a friendship."

When Ford surprisingly became Richard Nixon's nominee to become vice president in 1974, Ford still kept long-made plans to visit his son, Jack, a forestry student at USU, and also to stay at the home of Jim and Gloria Brown in Tremonton. So, swarms of reporters and the Secret Service descended on the small town.

"I remember I had a hut in the back yard," Brown recalls. "It became the Secret Service hot spot, which I thought was really cool."

He has even better memories of Ford. "My fondest memories are him with a stocking cap and skis smoking a pipe, and how much I loved the smell. He was the most kind and gentle person that there was."

Brown's sister, Jennifer Jensen of Hyde Park, remembers staying with the Fords in the White House for several days — and also later how Ford gave the Browns a pup from the litter of his dog in the White House, Liberty. "We had a contest at the elementary school to name the dog," she recalls. The puppy was named Liberty's Pride.

A gifted athlete

Other Utah friends of Ford recall that he was sometimes different than how he was portrayed in the press.

As one example, Roger Porter — a Provo native and Harvard University professor who was a White House aide to Ford (and Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush) — says the press erroneously pictured Ford as a clumsy bumbler who hit people in the head with errant golf and tennis shots or tripped down airplane steps.

"The truth is, he was actually a very gifted athlete. He and George H.W. Bush were probably the most athletic presidents ever," Porter said Wednesday.

He should know. Porter played tennis with both. In fact, when then-President Ford, who had been a star football player for the University of Michigan, heard that Porter was a former Utah state tennis champion, he made the young aide his doubles partner.

For years, Porter displayed a photo in his White House office of him and Ford playing tennis against George H.W. Bush. Ford had arranged that doubles game to help Bush relax just before his Senate confirmation hearings as CIA director.

Ford himself said some interesting things about Utah and Utahns.

"It was Horace Greeley who said 'Go West, young man,' but it was Brigham Young who knew where to

stop," Ford, as vice president, told a USU graduation ceremony in June 1974.

(Ford always loved the West. He was a ranger in Yellowstone National Park in 1936, and he long maintained a condo in Vail.).

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