Gerald R. Ford Leadership Forum


Table of Contents


“The Ford Forum,” an initiative of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, is inspired by President Ford’s virtue-anchored leadership. It has three programmatic aims:

  • Leadership development
  • Civic engagement
  • Community betterment.

The Ford Leadership Forum is built on four pillars to advance President Ford’s legacy and develop emerging leaders

  • Mentoring and internship opportunities;
  • Workshops that help communities find common ground for the greater good;
  • Curated online content around the theme of virtue-anchored leadership; and
  • Deep-study seminars and web content that probe the challenges we face as a nation, as leaders, and as citizens.

The Ford Leadership Forum uses in-person relationships and digital platforms to connect young people with each other and trusted elders, both in West Michigan and beyond. The aim is to form a coast-to-coast community of advanced undergraduates, graduate students, college professors, young professionals, think tank scholars, journalists, and those studying in professional schools dedicated to the law, business, and public administration for the purpose of advancing the virtues necessary for democratic citizenship and community leadership.

We help the rising generations grow their potential for excellence in a world that desperately needs the Ford brand with its virtue-anchored leadership. These emerging leaders study, practice, and project President Ford’s intellectual, moral, and civic virtues—trust, integrity, self-control, prudence, courage, resilience, candor, civility, decency, hard work, service, and leadership excellence—with the goal of finding principled common ground for the greater good. In the spirit of our namesake’s memoir, A Time to Heal, we prepare citizens for the hard work required to restore the integrity of our institutions.


Phase I

The Ford Leadership Forum is dedicated to building virtual platforms and developing online content. This process is taking place throughout 2022 and involves the recruitment of students and instructors while developing Ford-oriented web content, deep-study seminars, and web/podcasts. The golden thread that runs through all the virtual content is virtue-anchored leadership, Exhibit “A” being President Ford’s.

Phase II

Phase II of the Ford Leadership Forum will roll out in 2023 with the development of mentor-student connections, apprenticeships, study in Washington DC, in-person seminars, and workshops in which students can practice finding common ground for the greater good. While in Phase II, students will also continue to participate in all the virtual programs developed during Phase I—studying Ford-oriented web content, timeless leadership books, and timely lessons of eminent leaders and scholars in our web/podcasts. Students who have completed the tracks will graduate with a certificate issued by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation.

Mission Statement

The Ford Leadership Forum is an initiative of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation that seeks to honor the 38th President’s legacy of public service. We aspire to cultivate within the rising generations the virtues that President Ford exhibited in both his public and private lives and are essential to a well-functioning democracy: commitment to the common good; the ability to work cooperatively and respectfully with political opponents; a mode of discourse that encourages civility without giving up on principle and conviction; a recognition that statesmanship requires a combination of goodwill, tolerance, honesty, personal integrity, and prudential and well-informed decision-making. We will encourage in today’s youth, through a series of educational and mentoring programs, the cultivation of classical virtues long associated with public life, among them: courage, magnanimity, prudence, patience, moderation, honesty, and justice.

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The Art of Being Free

The Ford Leadership Forum is dedicated to reanimating our understanding of the importance of virtue to public life, as well as developing the programs necessary to cultivate virtue in both our leaders and citizens. One of the biggest debates around the ratification of our Constitution involved the degree to which it either created or presupposed a republic of virtue. Critics of the Constitution worried that the Constitution traded too much on interest and passion and not enough on virtue, while defenders of the Constitution often argued that virtue was not something we could always count on. In the words of James Madison, “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” 

Both parties agreed, however, the “our system of government presupposes virtue in a higher form than any other,” and that virtue would be best developed and cultivated in our private associations. Only when people had shown themselves dependable and trustworthy in normal human interactions could they be counted on to handle the demands of political authority and power. In other words, all the institutions of society had to work together to form persons capable of ordered liberty. In the words of Alexis de Tocqueville: “It cannot be repeated too often that nothing is more fertile in prodigies than the art of being free; but there is nothing more arduous than the apprenticeship of liberty. Such is not the case with despotic institutions: despotism often promises to make amends for a thousand previous ills; it supports the right, it protects the oppressed, and it maintains public order. The nation is lulled by the temporary prosperity which accrues to it, until it is roused to a sense of its own misery. Liberty, on the contrary, is generally established in the midst of agitation, it is perfected by civil discord, and its benefits cannot be appreciated until it is already old.”

Our age of political agitation and civil discord is thus an opportunity for us to relearn and internalize liberty’s hard lessons. At the Ford Leadership Forum, we embrace this moment and this opportunity, just as our namesake did fifty years ago in the depths of one of our nation’s greatest crises. We will accomplish this through reengagement with and strengthening of the institutions of civil society such as schools, churches, businesses, and other civic associations.

Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, greets President Ford upon his arrival at Vozdvizhenka Airport.

Ford Name And Legacy

The Ford last name goes back to England in the distant past. It refers to someone or some group who lived near the ford of a river. These early Fords knew where to cross potentially dangerous waters, and when it was safe for people to do so in order to migrate, trade, and explore. Gerald Ford lived up to his adopted name. Somewhere in the distant past, Ford’s ancestors were the ones who sought out the best place to cross and unite two different sides of a river, and it was usually made possible only by traversing a difficult middle. And he grew up in Grand Rapids, in a city known for its fords around rapids for the settlement to grow and prosper. This, then, is the perfect metaphor for Ford’s life mission and work. He sought to unify communities of different people, interests, values, goals. To do it he often had to bypass turbulent waters. It also reflects his economic support for infrastructure legislation, which was passed in early America by even by the most libertarian Founders. Infrastructure enables an economy to grow its capacity to produce wealth. This is a different way of seeing common ground for the greater good, and it avoids the connotation that such people are unprincipled squishes.