Gerald Ford Dead At 93

President Gerald Ford is seen in this August 10,1974 file photo. Former first lady Betty Ford said Tuesday Dec. 26, 2006, that President Gerald Ford has died.
AP Photo
Former President Gerald R. Ford, the 38th president of the United States who replaced Richard Nixon and inherited a White House shattered by the Watergate scandal, died Tuesday night. He was 93.

"My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather has passed away at 93 years of age," Ford's wife, Betty, said in a statement. "His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country."

Ford's office said the former president died at 6:45 p.m. PST Tuesday at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. No cause of death was released. Official funeral arrangements were to be announced Wednesday.

Ford is expected to lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda this weekend and the funeral service will take place at the National Cathedral, reports CBS News Early Show national correspondent Hattie Kauffman.

Ford had battled pneumonia in January 2006 and underwent two heart treatments — including an angioplasty — in August at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

He was the longest living president, followed by Ronald Reagan, who also died at 93. Ford had been living at his desert home, about 130 miles east of Los Angeles.

"I was deeply saddened this evening when I heard of Jerry Ford's death," former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement. "Ronnie and I always considered him a dear friend and close political ally."

Said President Bush: "The American people will always admire Gerald Ford's devotion to duty, his personal character and the honorable conduct of his administration."

Spanning 10 decades, Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr.'s life was one of remarkable achievement. Yet his widely respected career would ultimately be tainted by political scandal, assassination attempts and national turmoil.

Ford's successes came early. As a young Boy Scout, he attained the highest rank of Eagle Scout. In college, he starred in football, playing on two national championship teams at the University of Michigan. After graduating Yale Law School, Ford emerged as an esteemed politician who rose through the ranks of the Republican Party on Capitol Hill.

Yet the 38th President of the United States holds the dubious distinction as being the nation's first and only commander in chief to reach office without being elected. The very reason Ford reached the White House — Richard Nixon's resignation — would also play a huge role in ending Ford's presidency.

Despite his impressive credentials, Ford's ascension to national prominence was fueled by the missteps of others. When Spiro Agnew resigned as Vice President in 1973 after pleading no contest to tax evasion, President Nixon needed an uncontroversial and respected replacement who could withstand close scrutiny of both his political and private life. He tapped Ford, who was then the House Minority Leader.

Just nine months later, after the Watergate scandal and ensuing cover-up, Nixon himself resigned, becoming the first president in U.S. history to do so. Vice President Ford took over. Taking the oath of office on Aug. 9, 1974, Ford declared: "Our long national nightmare is over."

But in some ways, the nightmare was just beginning for the new president. A month after attaining the White House, Ford gave Nixon a full pardon for any crimes he committed as president. He defended the decision as being in the best interest of the country but critics derided the pardon as a "corrupt bargain" between Ford and the disgraced ex-president.

Since a large part of the electorate associated Ford with the Nixon conspiracy, the pardon proved to be a decision that would cement his downfall.

Ford also faced turbulence in his foreign policy. In 1975, he ordered Marines to rescue the crew up the SS Mayaguez, an American merchant ship that had been seized by Cambodians in international waters. The rescue effort was a debacle: Marines landed on the wrong island and 41 service men were killed, including three believed to have been left behind alive and executed.

The domestic picture was not much better. Rising inflation, energy shortages and a recession plagued the economy. Ford tackled the problems with tax and spending cuts, deregulating industries and reducing the reach of the federal government. One of Ford's favorite speech lines was: "A government big enough to give us everything we want is a government big enough to take from us everything we have."

But, Ford and a Democratic Congress clashed repeatedly over numerous issues from presidential war powers to military aid. Meanwhile, chaos reigned in Vietnam and in 1975, America withdrew completely from Saigon, leaving the old noncommunist capital to fall to the North Vietnamese.