The Web      Powered by
powered by Yahoo!


Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with former President Gerald Ford and former first lady Betty Ford

Aired June 8, 2004 - 21:00   ET


GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me say this from the bottom of my heart, after the scrimmages of the past few months, it really feel good to have Ron Reagan on the same side of the line.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight exclusive, former President Gerald Ford and former first lady, Betty Ford, in there first interview since Ronald Reagan's death, as thousands of mourners continue to file pass this flag draped coffin at the Reagan Library in California, Gerald and Betty Ford, America's 38th president and his wife share their memories of America's 40th president, next on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: Good evening. Great honor to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE tonight the 38th president of the United States, Gerald Ford. President Ford joins us from his home in Beaver Creek, Colorado. And in a little while, we'll be joined by his wife, Betty.

Tomorrow night, by the way, former President Bush will be our special guest, along with his wife, Barbara.

Mr. President, how did you learn of President Reagan's passing?

G. FORD: Well, I was in our house in California at the time, and the word got to me through one of my Secret Service agents. And immediately upon learning that, Betty and I called Nancy Reagan to extend our deepest condolences and extend our prayers.

KING: Did you at all see the president at any time in recent years?

G. FORD: Yes. I saw him on occasion. He and I became very good friends. Let me be very forthright. I think Ronald Reagan was a first class president, and I treasured my relationship and association with him.

KING: Did you see him after he had announced that he had Alzheimer's?

G. FORD: I did. I went to his office in Los Angeles one time after he had made that public announcement. He barely recognized me, but we had a chat for 15 or 20 minutes. I tried to bring things up that would refresh his memory, and we had a wonderful, very informal chat. But he was not the Ronald Reagan that I admired and felt as a very good friend.

KING: Which of course, then, had to be very sad for you.

G. FORD: It was a very sad announcement when we heard, when he made the public announcement that he had Alzheimer's. It shocked both Betty and me, because he had been so much on the other side of aggressive, you know, just a good guy.

KING: Before we discuss the relationship between the two of you, what are your thoughts about him on the world stage? The optimism? We remember that great "shining city on a hill" speech, which was at a convention in which you defeated him for the nomination.

G. FORD: Well, I look upon Ronald Reagan's career, No. 1 he was a firm believer in the strength of the United States and as a nation that was going to be the leader of the free world.

Secondly, he firmly believed in the ideology that was the prevailing point of view in the United States. He had firm views that I admired, I respected, and he was a great statesman whom we miss very badly.

KING: What kind of an opponent was he in that stretch of primaries in 1976?

G. FORD: Well, We had a pretty good contest. It came out by a -- the final votes were cast in Kansas City, and I think I won by a narrow margin. But we became good friends, despite -- despite that contest.

You know, something I learned, Larry, that you have to -- in politics, you have to give and take and respect the views of others. And I certainly felt that way towards President Reagan.

KING: So you were not angry that even though you were the sitting president he challenged you for the job?

G. FORD: I didn't resent it. I had been in politics long enough, Larry, that I understood that, in the political life, you had to give some and accept some. So I -- that was a big, important battle between Governor Reagan and myself, but it turned out that we became very warm friends.

And when he ran in 1980, I think it was, I campaign very hard for him all over the country.

KING: In fact, concerning that campaign in 1980, I think it was the first time I ever interviewed you. There were strong rumors that Mr. Reagan was going to pick you, the former president, to be his running mate.

Was that ever discussed?

G. FORD: Let me give you the background on that story. Betty and I went to Detroit before the convention. Then Governor Reagan and Nancy wanted to come up and say hello. And they came to the room, and in that room at the hotel in Detroit, he indicated he would like me to be his running mate.

I said, "Governor, I don't want it. Let me think it over in deference to your request." We negotiated back and forth, and it was very obvious that it was better for him to run as the candidate and let me campaign on his behalf, which I did.

KING: As we go to break, we'll remember the 1976 convention in Kansas City. We'll be right back with the 38th president of the United States, the honorable Gerald Ford.


G. FORD: Everybody in this great audatorioum tonight, were all tremendous pleased and honored to have Ron Reagan and Nancy Reagan come down.


G. FORD: We are all a part of this great Republican family that will give the leadership to the American people to win on November 2. I would like -- I would be honored on your behalf to ask my good friend Governor Reagan to say a few words at this time.


GOV. RONALD REAGAN, CALIFORNIA: Thank you very much. Mr. President, Mrs. Ford, Mr. Vice President, Mr. Vice President to be.


REAGAN: The distinguished guess here and you ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to say fellow Republican's here, but to those who are watching from a distance, all those millions of Democrats and Independents who I know are looking for a cause around which to rally in which I believe we can give them.





G. FORD: All of you here in our great state of Michigan and all of those wonderful people in 49 other states, do as I am certian we will do, this country can start on a new road for the four years with Ronald Reagan and George Bush.


KING: A little itinerary. The body of President Reagan will be flown from California to Andrews Air Force Base tomorrow. There'll be a funeral procession to the United States Capitol. A state funeral ceremony will be held in the rotunda at 7 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night. And then at 8:30 Eastern tomorrow night, the body will lie in state for the public.

The last former president to have this, by the way, was Lyndon Johnson in 1973.

On Thursday, it will lie in state throughout the day and night. And then Friday morning will be the national funeral service at the National Cathedral. Then the body will be flown back to California, a private interment service at the Reagan Library beginning at 9:15.

We will have an hour and a half special show on Friday night, starting at 9 p.m. until 10:30 Eastern Time as the president, the 40th president of the United States, is laid to rest.

President Ford, what, if anything, surprised you about President Reagan's presidency?

G. FORD: I was pleased that his popularity expanded. I always knew he had a great personality, a great capability to -- ingrained himself with the public. Well he -- his presidency showed him to be a very popular and very successful president.

Let me say that both Betty and I will be at the cathedral in Washington at the ceremonies, and we are going to pay our tribute to President Reagan, who was a dear friend and very, very outstanding chief executive.

KING: Let's discuss some of your memories. The D-Day speech in Normandy 20-years-ago. Remember that speech?

G. FORD: I certainly do. I was not present, but I heard it, saw it. It was again, a typical case of Reagan oratory dominating the whole circumstance.


REAGAN: We're here to mark that day in history when the allied armies joined battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was inslaved and the world prayed for it's rescue. Here in Normandy the recue began.


KING: He did that so well. How about "tear down that wall" at the Brandenburg Gate?

G. FORD: That line is unbelievably embedded in the history of our country. That was an important strong, strong comment by the president to Mr. Gorbachev, to the Soviet Union, that we were going to win, period.

KING: You came into office and brought this nation together at a time when Mr. Nixon had just resigned, Vice President Agnew had resigned. There was turmoil. You kept this country together. Then President Carter had his presidency. You and President Carter became great friends.

What did Ronald Reagan bring to the presidency that vitalized this country so much?

G. FORD: Well, the country had gone through some very difficult times. Agnew resigning, Nixon resigning. We had Watergate. We had the war in Vietnam. The country was going through a very difficult period.

Ronald Reagan came in. He revised our -- and uplifted our spirits at a time that was so, so very essential for the future of America. I applaud it. I congratulate President Reagan. He did a heck of a good job.

KING: What do you remember about when you went -- I know the friendship with President Carter began when you went to the Sadat funeral? Reagan went to that funeral, too. President Reagan went to that funeral.

What was that trip like?

G. FORD: Well, that was a sad event, because I had gotten to know President Sadat. He had -- and I had become good friends as we worked, negotiated to try and settle the problems of the Middle East.

But to go from Washington to the Middle East, that was about a 20-hour flight, as I recall with the people that were there in close quarters. It was -- it was a pressure trip.

KING: And was -- was President Reagan very engaged in it? Was he -- what did he think of Sadat? What did you talk about?

G. FORD: Well, we talked about the tragedy of the assassination, because I always felt, and I still do, that Sadat and Rabin from Israel were a pair that I hoped could make real progress in trying to settle or solve the difficult challenges in the Middle East.

So most of the time on the trip, all of us who were involved talked about what we could do to push the peace process forward.

KING: We will take a break, and when we come back, we'll talk about the assassination attempt which President Ford had to face in his life, as well. All of that ahead on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Tomorrow night President Bush -- Betty -- and his wife Barbara.

Betty Ford will be joining us in a little while. Right back with President Gerald Ford after this.


REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate.


REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.



KING: We're back with President Gerald Ford, coming to us from his home in Beaver Creek, Colorado, and announcing, of course, that he will be attending the funeral at the National Cathedral that will take place at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time on Friday morning, of course televised here on CNN.

You had an assassination attempt against you. What do you -- what are your memories about the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan?

G. FORD: Well, I had two assassination attempts, one by Squeaky Fromme in Sacramento, California, and again by Sarah Jane Moore in San Francisco. So I was a bit familiar with...

KING: A veteran.

G. FORD: And I just couldn't believe why anybody would undertake an assassination attempt of President Reagan. He had such an outgoing, warm personality, it was unbelievable that some crackpot would take a shot at the president, who was an outgoing, friendly, first class individual.

But I guess these people who do attempt assassinations are unusual. Squeaky Fromme certainly was off her mind. Sarah Jane Moore, the same way. So I guess Hinckley would fall into that same category.

KING: When it happened to you, after the first time, did you find yourself being super careful? Were you worried at public appearances?

G. FORD: Well, you can better ask Betty that question while you're in the program. I think she was more worried than I. I wore a protective vest for a few weeks.

But people said to me, "Well, why don't you stay in the White House and not go out to meet the public?" My answer to them was, a president has to be aggressive, has to meet the people, and therefore, I did. And good luck, and thank God I had no further incidents.

KING: Did you talk to President Reagan much during his presidency? Did he keep in contact with former presidents?

G. FORD: I had good contact with him. Any time I wanted to call him at the White House or elsewhere, he was available. And on more than one occasion, if he wanted to contact me, he did directly. And we would have a good conversation on whatever the subject was.

We developed a very excellent relationship, and it's a sad, sad event that he passed away, even though he had the tragic disease of Alzheimer's. KING: Some people are saying sometimes, after all, living 10 years, it's a kind of a blessing for everyone concerned to -- he lived a full and wonderful life, to go now to a greater reward. Do you buy any of that?

G. FORD: Oh, yes. And I, on behalf of Betty and myself, extend to Nancy our love, our gratitude. We treasure our friendship with her, just as we did with Ron and Nancy together.

KING: Now, how about him as comforter in chief? We'll never forget the speech after the Challenger went down. What do you remember about that, Mr. President?

G. FORD: I remember it very vividly, Larry, because when I was in the Congress, I was on the committee that made all the money available for our space program. And then, of course, when President Reagan came up with the Star Wars program, oh, I was enthusiastic. And I was saddened by the tragedy in space.

KING: And how about his speech?

G. FORD: Well, nobody could do it better. He had a fantastic way of communicating. He had a wonderful reputation as the Great Communicator, which he was. So that speech on that occasion was a tearjerker.


REAGAN: The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us for the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye. And slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.


KING: Looking back a second, back to 1976, after you'd won the nomination, you called him up to the podium, did you not?

G. FORD: I did. I asked both Nancy and then Governor Reagan to come to the podium, which they did. And there is a great picture of Betty and myself and the Reagans on the podium after that particular contest.

KING: Do you remember -- were you with -- I know you -- I think you were at the '92 convention when President Reagan said good-bye. Do you remember that?

G. FORD: I certainly do. I -- you may remember, I had a short, very limited stroke in 1990. And -- but I remember the -- I remember the speech by President Reagan, and even though I was hospitalized for about a week, I was enthusiastic about the Republican chances.

KING: When we come back, we'll ask President Ford about his own health, how are things going. And then after that, we'll meet Betty Ford. Tomorrow night, the Bushes. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. An hour and a half edition of LARRY KING LIVE on Friday night when President Reagan is laid to rest in California at the Reagan Library.

We'll be right back.


REAGAN: I have always believed in you and in what you could accomplish for yourselves and for others. And whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty's lamp guiding your steps, and opportunity's arm steadying your way. My fondest hope for each one of you, and especially for the young people here...

CROWD: Reagan, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan!

REAGAN: All right.




REAGAN: We who are privileged to be Americans have had a rendez- vous with destiny, since the moment in 1630, when John Winthrop, standing on the deck of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) off the coast of Massachusetts, told the little band of pilgrims, we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God, in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.

A troubled and afflicted mankind looks to us, pleading for us to keep our rendez-vous with destiny. That we will uphold the principles of self-reliance, self-discipline, morality, and above all, responsible liberty for every individual. That we will become that shining city on a hill.


KING: We're back with President Gerald Ford. A couple of more things for President Ford, and then Betty will join us.

Was he -- was President Reagan always, to your knowledge, optimistic?

G. FORD: That was a very outstanding characteristic of President Reagan. He always believed that things were going to be better, and he worked hard to make them better, to make the country, United States, strong militarily, to make it strong enough so that the Soviet Union would collapse. He was an optimist, and he just lived optimism.

KING: How do you explain that relationship with Mr. Gorbachev?

G. FORD: Well, it was a key time in our relationship, because when I was in the White House, when Lyndon Johnson, when others -- we were faced with the Soviet Union that wanted to combat us directly.

When President Reagan took over, he developed that friendship with Gorbachev. It was helpful in the termination, the collapse of the Soviet Union. And I applaud President Reagan's role in making that possible.

KING: What, President Ford, is the toughest part of being president?

G. FORD: Well, the toughest part, Larry, is that you have to be available 24 hours a day, every day of the year. And you never know when something is coming up that could -- that could bring about a challenge to the United States at home and abroad.

So you just have to expect the worst and always assume the best will take care of itself.

KING: So in other words, a president knows, if they wake him up at 3 in the morning, it is not good news?

G. FORD: That's exactly right, Larry, and I fortunately didn't have any crises like that, although we had our share of problems.

KING: We know about the tragedy, the sadness, of President Reagan's post-presidency, the development of Alzheimer's and living 10 years with it until his passing. What has retirement been like for you?

G. FORD: Repeat that again, Larry.

KING: What has retirement been like for you? What is being a former president like?

G. FORD: It's been a wonderful experience. Betty and I spent 28 years in Washington, 25 years in Congress, nine months as vice president, two and a half years as president. That was an exciting challenge and a wonderful experience.

I was proud of the opportunity to be in Washington in those roles, and I thank the voters for giving me that opportunity. Thank God for this country, where we have the kind of opportunity for people to serve. I'm blessed, and I am grateful.

KING: And how about after the presidency. What's retirement been like?

G. FORD: Well, we have enjoyed retirement. I've cut back on the speeches I make around the country. Betty and I spend more time together. And she was a wonderful wife while I was in the White House. We've had a wonderful relationship. We've been married 55 years, so I guess you can say things have gone pretty well.

KING: And before we meet Betty, how is your health?

G. FORD: I'm fine. I had that setback in Philadelphia three or four years ago, but I don't play 18 holes of golf anymore. I'm what they call a six-holer. And I enjoy it, and I have a bunch of pals in California that are tough to compete with.

But it's a wonderful retirement. Betty and I are very grateful.

KING: How old are you now, Mr. President?

G. FORD: Well, I'll be 91 in about six weeks, so it's moving up.

KING: Will you attend the convention in New York?

G. FORD: No, I don't think so. Larry, I've been to 14 Republican conventions, so I think I've done my share. Watch it on television and applaud our nominee and the whole program.

KING: When we come back, we'll be joined by Betty Ford. The president will remain, as well. More of LARRY KING LIVE right after this.


G. FORD: Tonight, we come to this convention as simple volunteers. Betty and I are for Ronald Reagan and George Bush, and we are going to campaign for our Republican ticket from now until November 6.




REAGAN: We meant to change a nation and instead we changed the world.

The march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism, Leninism on the ash heap of history...

40 summers have passed since the battle of (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You were young the day you took these cliffs...

To ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding...

I believe that together we can keep this rendezvous with destiny.


KING: President Gerald Ford remains with us, and joining us now from their home in Beaver Creek, Colorado, is our dear friend, Betty Ford, looking as great as ever.

Betty, what were your thoughts on the passing of Ronald Reagan? BETTY FORD, GERALD FORD'S WIFE: Well, my thoughts were really double. Deep, sorrow for Nancy and the family but had, since President Reagan had been suffering from Alzheimer's for 10 years now, I hoped that it would be relief for the family, because he really was failing so terribly.

KING: What was, to you, special, Betty, about their love story? Because you have a similar one.

B. FORD: I would love to think that our love story was just as great as theirs. Certainly theirs was one of the greatest love stories of all time, Larry. And we all were pulling for them all the time. We have been fortunate to have 55 going on 56 years together, and we feel that our relationship has only gotten stronger and stronger as we kind of face those golden years together.

KING: There was, as we discussed with the president, an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. You had to live through two. What was that like for the first lady?

B. FORD: It was very scary, Larry. And after the first attempts on his life by Squeaky Fromme, every time he left the White House I used to go on the balcony and pray that somehow he would come back and avoid anything like that again. But, of course, there was another one which made me even more apprehensive.

KING: We know President Reagan attended the dedication of the Ford Museum in Grand Rapids in September of 1981. I was honored to be there, that beautiful museum. And the both of you attended the dedication of the Reagan Library in November of '91. That was some dedication as well. How is everything going at your library, Betty?

B. FORD: Well, I think they're just doing astounding things, because the display, it changes so often, and it's evermore interesting with the different displays that are -- shift around from different libraries.

G. FORD: I think you ought to point out, Betty, that you're so heavily involved with the Betty Ford Center that you do a wonderful job as the hands-on chairman of that outstanding facility.

B. FORD: I think Larry knows that. He's been very supportive of it.

KING: I don't want to be morbid, but people -- I know presidents do this. Nancy Reagan, at the library, showed me where she and the president will be buried. He'll be buried there on Friday night. And when Nancy goes, we hope many, many, many years from now, she'll be buried next to him. Have you made such plans, President Ford?

G. FORD: We have an area adjacent to the Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, where both Betty and I will be laid side by side. It's a beautiful location on the Grand River in Grand Rapids.

B. FORD: And it's a very reassuring thought, Larry.

KING: It is? It's reassuring to you?

B. FORD: Yes, it is, that eventually, you know, if anything happens, we will be there together, as we have been for so many years.

KING: Betty, do you worry about President Ford's health?

B. FORD: Well, I've worried about his health for a lot of years. You know -- of course, naturally, as we get a little older, I think we become closer together because he's not traveling as much and I certainly am not. So it's a different kind of marriage. It's a very, very strong marriage which, of course, is great for us and it's great for our children because they join us very often.

KING: President Reagan was 93. President Ford, what is it like to be 90?

G. FORD: Well, I'm darn glad that I'm on my feet. I'll be 91 in July. And I applaud President Reagan for his many, many years of great leadership. And it was a great tragedy that he had Alzheimer's for the last 10 years.

I'm lucky so far that I'm doing well. And Betty and I...

B. FORD: I'm just glad he's doing well, believe you me. It's something that I thank the good Lord for every day.

KING: We'll take a break and come back with our remaining moments with the 38th president of the United States and his wife, Gerald and Betty Ford, on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.



REAGAN: Before I go, I would like to ask the person who has made my life's journey so meaningful, someone I have been so very proud of over the years to join me. Nancy.


KING: We're back with our remaining moments with President Gerald Ford and Betty Ford from their home in Beaver Creek, Colorado. Everyone knows what Nancy Reagan has had to put up with these last 10 years, how tough that must have been. What are your thoughts, Betty, about her?

B. FORD: Oh, I have such great admiration for Nancy as she has gone through this period. She's been strong, she's been dedicated, and she's been by her husband's side all of the time that he has been so ill. And that's true dedication of their love affair.

KING: A couple of weeks ago, she came out strongly for stem cell research. Do you think that might prompt this to get along faster, Betty? B. FORD: Oh, her support is a very positive, major support for stem cell, yes. We had already -- she had written to us once and we had written to her saying we were behind it 100 percent. And I know she has a large group of people that are going to support her in that.

KING: All right. President Ford, what will be President Reagan's legacy? What will the historians say?

G. FORD: As the historians thumb through the pages of the Reagan presidency, they will find a president who was strong at home and effective abroad. We are proud of his record and we extend our deepest condolences and extend our prayers to Nancy, who's been a wonderful, wonderful wife.

KING: President Ford, would you call President Reagan a great president?

G. FORD: Definitely, very definitely. He's first class, strong, and I think he gave to this country the kind of leadership we needed at home, but also the kind of leadership in beating the challenge of communism worldwide. He's first -- he had a first-class record. I'm proud to have known him and worked with him.

KING: Betty, how did you get along with President Reagan?

B. FORD: Well, he was a charming man, as far as I was concerned. And, of course, politically, I was always supportive of what he was doing. He had a very warm personality and always was very entertaining.

KING: And very supportive of your center, was he not?

B. FORD: Oh, yes, indeed. And, you know, Larry, you were there for our 20th anniversary, and I was so grateful that Nancy could be there at that time. She made a big effort to be there with the other first ladies who came.

KING: Yes. That was a great night.

President Ford, when will you leave for Washington?

G. FORD: We're leaving Thursday. We'll be there overnight, and we'll go to the ceremonies in the Capitol, and we'll go to the services at the cathedral. We will be extending our warmest, best wishes to a great president and his wonderful wife, Nancy.

KING: Is it nice to get along, Betty, when you see -- you'll see Barbara Bush and you'll see Hillary Clinton and you'll see Rosalyn Carter?

B. FORD: I look forward to seeing -- you know, the first ladies have a unique admiration kind of society because we've all been through that same experience together with the same responsibilities. And you develop a friendship that is like no other friendship.

KING: What do you think of Laura Bush, by the way? B. FORD: Oh, I think she's tremendous. One of the very finest that we have had in many years. She couldn't be -- she really couldn't do a better job, Larry, I don't think.

KING: Thank you both for sharing this time with us, President Ford and Mrs. Ford. It's always great seeing you. We wish you continue the best of health, and thank you for sharing your memories of President Reagan.

G. FORD: Thank you, Larry. And the very best to you.

B. FORD: Yes, thank you, Larry.

KING: Thank you, Betty.

Gerald and Betty Ford, the 38th president of the United States and the first lady -- former first lady of the United States.

And I'll be back in a minute to tell you about tomorrow night. Don't go away.


KING: Thanks for joining us on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. An exclusive, their first interview together since the death of President Reagan with President Ford and Betty Ford. Tomorrow night, we'll be in Houston, Texas and our special guests will be former President George Herbert Walker Bush and Barbara Bush. The Bushes tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE. "NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown is next.


International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise With Us About Us
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.
Add RSS headlines.