Once when I had given a firebrand speech against the political position of then-House Majority Leader Tip O'Neill, Ford said to me: "Jack, you might have been a quarterback of the San Diego Chargers and the Buffalo Bills, but I'm the quarterback here and you're a blocking guard, not the quarterback." Ford was working out a compromise with O'Neill and the Democrats, and he was telling me not to jeopardize his delicate negotiations.
I never forgot that lesson of principled compromise that Ford believed was in the best interest of our nation's foreign policy.
I had my disagreements with Ford on taxes, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment on Soviet Jewry and not inviting Alexander Solzehnitzen to the White House, but I never doubted his honor, integrity or his love of country.
At the visitation in Palm Desert, I had the wonderful opportunity to tell Betty Ford that her husband gave all of us in the political arena a great example of effective leadership and principled conservatism. Then I told her that he also gave me one of the best pieces of advice I ever received.
I was a freshman congressman from upstate New York when one Friday afternoon during football season he noticed how nervous and fidgety I was in the back benches of the House. He said, "Jack, what's wrong?" and I told him that I was anxious to get out to watch my son quarterback a big football game. "You know Jack," he said, "one of my biggest disappointments was not being able to watch my son play football. Don't miss your son's game."
In "Pirkei Avot - The Ethics of the Fathers," Rabbi Shimon Ben Elazar writes that there are three crowns to a man's life: "The crown of learning, the crown of the priesthood and the crown of royalty. But the crown of a good name exceeds them all."
Ford wears the highest crown of a successful life, the crown of a good name. What a great legacy.
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