Just like with "My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House," I started reading "Write It When I'm Gone" by esteemed journalist Thomas M. DeFrank last night, and finished it late this morning. It's a series of three decades of off-the-record interviews with Gerald R. Ford, who told DeFrank he could print all this after his death. And DeFrank did. And while it yielded very little information for my own book, it's a remarkable, highly informative journey through the feelings and historical moments of America's first and only unelected vice president and president, which Ford did not like, and wanted so badly to be elected in his own right, but came to terms with it in due time in his post-presidential life.
In my notes, I took down names to look up, titles of other books to read, political names to look up, such as James Callaghan of Britain, but I found a moment in here that speaks to exactly what I believe in my own life: No one is above me and no one is below me. And I hold the same belief for presidents. They may have access to nuclear launch codes, and their words reverberate throughout the world, but they are human. Their historical position does not change that.
Ford showed that many times, being a gentle man and a good man. DeFrank writes this in his epilogue:
"All of us in this crazy business of journalism retain instances that stick in our brains, moments that really weren't newsworthy or happened past deadline, so they never made it into print or onto the air, but are memorable nonetheless because they offer an unexpected window into the character and humanity of a public life.
For me, one of those iconic insights occurred just four days after Gerald Ford became president, as he was fiddling with the speech he would give to a joint session of Congress in less than two hours.
Suddenly, Ford looked up from his text and a postprandial martini.
"Howard, have you had dinner?" he asked Commander Howard Kerr, the naval aide who had delivered the final speech draft to Ford's modest home in the Virginia suburbs.
When Kerr said he hadn't eaten, the new president led the officer into the kitchen and plucked the remains of the new First Lady's tuna noodle casserole from the oven. Ford spooned out the entree onto a plate and put it on the kitchen table. "Have some dinner," he told Kerr. "I'm going to go work on the speech."
Mr. President, I can't dedicate this book to you when the time comes, but I see now that you are the reason for this book. Thank you.