As the 38th President of the U.S., Gerald Ford inherited a much-troubled nation. In 1974 Ford took office, following the resignation of President Richard Nixon, who left the White House in disgrace over the Watergate scandal. A longtime Republican congressman from Michigan, Ford is credited with helping to restore public confidence in government after the disillusionment of the Watergate era.
After two and a half years in the White House, however, Ford fought off a strong challenge by Ronald Reagan to gain the Republican nomination in the 1976 campaign, only to lose one of the closest elections in history to the Democrat Jimmy Carter. In retirement, the former president remained active. He gave speeches, served on the boards of major corporations, and indulged his passions for outdoor recreation. Ford and his wife, who battled alcoholism at a time when the disease was not publicly discussed, also opened the Betty Ford Clinic in California to support research, treatment, and rehabilitation for alcohol addiction.
In 1999, Ford received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor "awarded to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural, or other significant public or private endeavors." To date, Ford is the only person to have served as both vice president and president without being elected to either office by the Electoral College.
Several decades earlier, Ford arrived at Yale Law School after turning down offers to play professional football. In 1938, he enrolled in classes full-time. To support himself while at Yale, he worked as an assistant football and head boxing coach. While he maintained high marks in the classroom, Ford also got his first introduction to politics. As a student at Yale, he joined a group led by R. Douglas Stuart Jr., and signed a petition to enforce the 1939 Neutrality Act. The petition was circulated nationally and was the inspiration for the America First Committee, a group determined to keep the U.S. out of World War II. In 1941 Ford graduated in the top 25 percent of his class.
Throughout the years, Yale has made efforts to commemorate the legacy of Ford's many national contributions. In 1979, for instance, the former president was back on campus to receive the Yale Law School Association’s Award of Merit. Since 1977, graduating seniors of Yale's Timothy Dwight College have also been eligible for the Gerald R. Ford Scholar-Athlete Award, an accolade given to those who best exemplify qualities of academic excellence and athletic achievement. But perhaps it was shortly after Ford's passing in 2006, that his connection to his alma mater was most succinctly summed up by then-Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh, who said in an official statement, “[Ford] leaves behind enduring accomplishments, including a nation healed, the Helsinki Accords, landmark post-Watergate legislation... History, and his alma mater, will long honor his memory."