Hillman, Thornburgh recall Ford as leader and friend

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Civic leader Elsie Hillman and former Gov. Dick Thornburgh, two longtime fixtures in Republican politics in Pittsburgh, last night recalled former President Gerald R. Ford as a good, honest man -- and as a true friend.

"He was a real patriot. A man who devoted his life to public service and exemplified the qualities of honesty and integrity that we look for in our leaders," Mr. Thornburgh said.

"I first met him when he was minority leader in the Congress and I was running for Congress in 1966, 40 years ago," he said.

Mr. Thornburgh lost that race, but went on to serve in Mr. Ford's administration as the head of the Criminal Division in the Department of Justice.

"I was assistant attorney general in that immediate post-Watergate period, so we had a lot of things to do tying up loose ends," he said, praising Mr. Ford's decision to pardon former President Richard Nixon.

"I think today, most people agree it was a wise thing to do to help the country heal from the upsets of Watergate and the like," Mr. Thornburgh said.

"We had a wonderful relationship," said Mrs. Hillman, who knew Mr. Ford for more than 30 years. "He was in Congress when I met him. I met him through [former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen.] Hugh Scott."

Mrs. Hillman recounted a Pittsburgh connection to Mr. Ford and his wife, Betty: Their first grandchild was born here.

Mr. Ford's oldest son, Michael, and his wife, Gayle, moved to Pittsburgh in 1977 when Michael Ford entered a minister-in-training program at Bellefield Presbyterian Church in Oakland.

The couple lived in a three-story brick house on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside for almost four years while Michael Ford served as a counselor for college students.

The child, Sarah Joyce Ford, was born at Magee-Womens Hospital on April 22, 1979. Mr. Ford and his wife first saw their granddaughter during an August 1979 visit to Pittsburgh.

The younger Fords left Pittsburgh in June 1981, when Michael became director of student affairs at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he is still employed.

Dan Majors can be reached at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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