The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama

By David L. Holmes | Go to book overview

Gerald R. Ford
1913–2006 PRESIDENT FROM 1974 TO 1977

If history considers Thomas Jefferson as an Episcopalian rather than as a Unitarian, then Gerald Rudolph Ford was the eleventh member of the Episcopal church to serve as president. That he was an active, believing Episcopalian was well known during his presidency.

Raised in Illinois, Ford’s mother, Dorothy Gardner, attended finishing school and a year of college. In 1912, after a short relationship, she fell in love with and married her roommate’s brother, Leslie Lynch King Sr., the son of an affluent Omaha banker and businessman. The marriage began to disintegrate on the honeymoon when King struck his bride because she had nodded slightly at a man who had taken off his hat as a gesture of respect in a hotel elevator.

Two weeks after their only child, Leslie Lynch King Jr., was born in his paternal grandfather’s mansion in 1913, the couple separated with the full support of Leslie King’s mother.1 With her two-week-old infant son, Dorothy went to live with her parents, who had moved from Chicago to the manufacturing city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She never returned to King and would later rename her son after her second husband, Gerald Rudolph Ford.

As Dorothy’s ex-husband would not pay the court-mandated child support, King’s father—Ford’s grandfather—paid it instead. These payments ended, however, after the grandfather died when Ford was seventeen. Ford met his biological father only once after infancy when King and his second wife surprised the sixteen-year-old in Grand Rapids and took him to lunch. By Ford’s report, the conversation was superficial, for father and son were complete strangers.

At that meeting, King gave his biological son $25 (more than $300 in 2010 dollars) and encouraged him to buy something that he could not otherwise afford. Ever the athlete, Ford spent half of the money on an expensive pair

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