Gerald Ford was a gee-wiz guy as House Republican
leader when the 43 newly-elected Republican freshmen
congressmen arrived in Washington, D.C. for
orientation on Capitol Hill after the November 1972
elections. This was the largest Republican freshman
class elected to the U.S. House of Representatives
since Franklin D. Roosevelt was president.
Jerry Ford immediately sought out John B. Conlan,
newly-elected congressman from Arizona's huge new
congressional district drawn after the 1970 Census in
north Phoenix and Scottsdale Arizona, all the way
northeast to the Utah-New Mexico borders.
Conlan was previously an Arizona state senator,
chairman of the state senate judiciary committee,
helped draw the new congressional district boundaries
to include affluent Republicans and rural conservative
Democrats, so he could run and win. He was no dummy.
Conlan was son of National Baseball Hall of Fame
umpire Jocko Conlan, brought up in Illinois before the
family moved to Arizona, a U.S. Army paratrooper,
graduated from Harvard law school, a regional field
director for the Reverend Billy Graham's national
ministry, and organized evangelical Christians to get
involved in politics.
So Jerry Ford wanted to know John Conlan, who got
himself elected as president of the incoming class of
Republican congressmen, and immediately reached out to
him as the House Class of '73 arrived for orientation
At their meeting, Conlan told Ford that he wanted to
continue his efforts to reach out to conservative
Christians throughout the country, to get them out of
the pews and into the polling places to elect more
conservative members of Congress.
Conlan outlined his book project called "One Nation
Under God" and said he needed support to make it work.
Ford told Conlan he would do whatever he could to be
helpful. Conlan wanted the front-cover of his book to
be the stained-glass picture of George Washington
kneeling at Valley Forge that was in the prayer room
at the Capitol, which was a privileged space reserved
for members of Congress, no pictures allowed.
Jerry Ford made the necessary calls to House officials
as minority leader and opened the way for Conlan to
get the image for the cover of his book -- a first use
of the Washington stained glass image -- which made a
huge impact as the book and its supplements were
circulated throughout the country and told Christians
how to get involved in politics, which they did in
A bond was therefore forged between Republican Leader
Ford and Conlan. They agreed they wanted to build the
Republican Party. Ford was more secular and moderate
in his political views than Conlan, but understood the
political dynamics that were pushing the Republican
Party to the right.
But Conlan, with Ford's support, traveled to almost
every state on weekends and holidays during his
four-year tenure as congressman, mostly visiting
churches throughout the South and even giving his
testimony at a Billy Graham crusade in Alabama. The
result was more Republican and conservative Democratic
gains in the House in 1974 and 1976, when Ronald
Reagan challenged Jerry Ford in the Republican primary
fight for the presidency.
As we mourn the loss of Gerald Ford, our 38th
president, many remember him as a quiet fighter to
build a moderate-conservative coalition that would
topple leftist Democratic control of Congress and even
win the White House.
Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976 after the challenge
by Ronald Reagan, which set up Reagan's march to
political victory against Carter four years later.
Throughout it all, Ford was a good man in every way, a
marvelous father, grandfather, and devoted husband to
Betty Ford, who in her own right started and built the
superb clinic named for her that has saved tens of
thousands of substance-abuse addicts.
Gerald Ford was a very good, spiritual man who
understood the political and cultural dynamics of our
country as well as any president in our lifetime, yet
he was so laid back and not seeking the limelight that
most people did not know the true positive impact he
had on our politics and culture.
So we salute and say a fond farewell to Gerald Ford, a
common man, a good and great man, who as our only
unelected 38th president restored confidence in our
constitutional heritage and country at a time when all
our founders had bethrothed to us was under siege.
Thank you good man. God bless and good bye. As a soul
now in heaven. please continue to watch over us as a
member of the community of saints.