Gerald R. Ford Leadership Forum

There’s a Ford Foundation . . . and there’s a Ford Foundation.

John Robert Greene

Thinking about what I might contribute to this inaugural iteration of the website of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation got me thinking about another Ford Foundation. And, in so doing, I got to thinking about one of Gerald Ford’s most significant contributions to the American politics of the Twenty-First century.

To begin, consider the below list of public servants who served in cabinet or sub-cabinet level positions in the Ford administration, as well as their subsequent contributions and service:

Service in Ford AdministrationService Following the Ford Administration
Anne ArmstrongCounselor to the President; Ambassador to Great BritainChair of President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (1981-1990)
James A. Baker IIIUndersecretary of Commerce (1975-1976); Chairman of Delegate Operations, Ford Campaign (1976); National Chairman, President Ford Committee (1976)Chief of Staff (1981-1985); Manager, President Reagan Reelection Campaign (1984); Secretary of Treasury (1985-1988); Manager, George H. W. Bush Presidential Campaign (1988); Secretary of State (1989-1992); Manager, George H. W. Bush Reelection Campaign (1992); Chief Legal Advisor, George W. Bush Campaign in Florida (2000-2001)
Robert BorkSolicitor GeneralCircuit Judge; Court of Appeals (1982-1988); nominee for United States Supreme Court (1987)
Claude S. BrinegarSecretary of TransportationMember, Transition Team, Carter to Reagan Administration (1980-1981)
George H. W. BushHead, U. S. Liaison Office, Beijing;D director, Central Intelligence AgencyVice President of the United States (1981-1989); President of the United States, 1989-1993)
Richard B. CheneyTransition Team, Nixon to Ford administration; Deputy Chief of Staff (1974-1975); Chief of Staff (1975-1977)Congressman at Large, Wyoming (1978-1989); Secretary of Defense (1989-1993); Vice President of the United States (2001-2009)
Richard G. DarmanAssistant Secretary of Commerce for PolicyDeputy to the Chief of Staff (1981-1985); Deputy Secretary of the Treasury (1985-1987); Director, Office of Management and Budget (1988-1993)
Lawrence EagleburgerExecutive Assistant to the Secretary of StateAmbassador to Yugoslavia (1977-1981); Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (1981-1982); Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs (1982-1984); Deputy Secretary of State (1989-1992)
Barbara FranklinCommissioner, U. S. Product Safety CommissionSecretary of Commerce (1991-1993)
Alan GreenspanChairman, Council of Economic AdvisorsChairman, Federal Reserve (1988-2006)
Robert GatesStaffer, National Security CouncilNSC Staff (1977-1979); Central Intelligence Agency: Deputy Director for Intelligence (1982), Deputy Director, Central Intelligence (1982-1989); Deputy National Security Advisor (1989-1991); Director, Central Intelligence Agency (1991-1993); Secretary of Defense (2006-2009)
Gen. Alexander M. HaigChief of StaffSecretary of State (1981-1982)
Carla A. HillsSecretary of Housing and Urban DevelopmentU. S. Trade Representative (1989-1993)
Dixy Lee RayMember and Chair, Atomic Energy CommissionGovernor of Washington (1976-1981)
Donald RumsfeldAmbassador to NATO; Transition Team, Nixon to Ford administration; Assistant to the President (Chief of Staff); Secretary of DefenseSpecial Envoy to the Middle East (1985-1988); Secretary of Defense (2001-2006)
Gen. Brent ScowcroftDeputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; National Security AdvisorNational Security Advisor (1989-1993)
Caspar W. WeinbergerSecretary of Health, Education, and WelfareSecretary of Defense (1981-1987)
Clayton K. YeutterAssistant Secretary of Marketing and Consumer Services; Assistant Secretary for International Affairs; Deputy Special Trade RepresentativeSpecial Trade Representative (1985-1989); Secretary of Agriculture (1989-1991); Chairman of the Republican National Committee (1991-1992); Counsellor to the President for Domestic Policy (1992)

This list is, of course, incomplete, as it omits the hundreds of staffers and other participants in the Ford administration who went on to serve in subsequent administrations. But what it clearly shows us is that the Ford Presidency offered a training ground for men and women who would serve their country in later administrations, both Republican and Democratic. It also shows that that training bred success—there was much upward mobility among the alumni of the Ford administration, as well as their political success and national influence in the years after 1976. 

But any list can only tell us so much. The job of the historian is not just to present a catalog of factual information (unless they are writing either an encyclopedia or a multiple-choice test). The job of the professional historian is to interpret those facts. And in this, I was helped by personal interviews for my books on Ford and his presidency that I did over the years with many of the people on this list. During the course of these interviews, many of them went out of their way to tell me of the affection they had, and continued to hold, for Ford, and that they had stayed in political life because of the example he set both as a president and as a person of integrity and courage.

Many of them also shared with me that as alumni of the Ford presidency they had formed a bond—an honor society of sorts—that they took to calling the “Ford Foundation.” This brand, which has found its way into the press and into many of the recent books on Ford and his presidency, has come to stand for the depth of the gratitude held by the alumni of the Ford administration for the president that they served.

When assessing presidential legacy, many factors must come into play. But one important factor is the influence that a president has both on future administrations and the politics of future generations. The members of the “Ford Foundation” remind us that Gerald Ford was not just an effective leader, but a leader who inspired both loyalty and continued service among those who served with him. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much does experience matter in politics?
  2. How much should we weigh the subsequent actions of a president’s staff member when evaluating either the appointment itself or how that person conducted his/her role?
  3. Is it relevant to evaluate leaders by the quality of the people they gather around them?

John Robert Greene

Cazenovia College

His books include The Limits of Power: The Nixon and Ford Years; The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford, and Betty Ford: Candor and Courage.


Sign up to receive new content from the Ford Forum.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: