President Ford: Tremonton family stays close

Published December 28, 2006 1:08 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Richard Brown, of Tremonton, and his buddy Steve did what many young men do when they come in late from a night out. They rummaged in the refrigerator and made sandwiches for themselves - until Brown and President Ford's son were chewed out for not calling the White House kitchen staff to make the snacks.

It was just one of many times Brown and his family tried to continue an ordinary friendship with extraordinary people, the president and his family. Now a Summit County builder, Brown reminisced about what it was like when his father's best friend happened to become the president of the United States.

"There are just so many great memories," Brown recalled Wednesday, the day after learning the former president had died at age 93.

The friendship began several years before Ford became the nation's president, on Aug. 9, 1974. Utah's 1st District congressman, Laurence J. Burton, introduced his House colleague from Michigan to James E. Brown, manager of customer relations for the Thiokol Chemical Co. Brown was a former state Republican Committee member and father of Richard and four other children.

The families spent Christmas holidays together. The Fords had four children and, during Ford's years in Congress, the two families converged on Snowbasin for skiing.

When Ford became president, the two families packed their presents and met in Vail, Colo., says Brown.

Gerald Ford's son, James "Jack" Ford, fell in love with Utah. He studied forestry at Utah State University and graduated in 1975 before going into journalism.

Thad Box was dean of the Natural Resources College when Jack and his younger brother Steve attended.

"We tried to keep it as ordinary as possible, and that's what the Fords wanted," says Box. "The president wanted to keep things low key, and they were."

The Fords did not ask for or receive special treatment, Box remembers. For instance, Jack was denied permission to skip a test so that he could attend a presidential function. Box recalls speaking with the president and first lady at a Tremonton reception. "They came around like any other parents and thanked me for looking after their kids."

The sons' presence in Utah made for an unusual number of visits from President Ford to Utah, and tiny Tremonton in particular.

In October 1973, just three days after embattled President Nixon asked him to replace Spiro Agnew as vice president, Ford was at the Browns' home, making his way through a reception crowd of 300, when he greeted a young, bearded man.

"Hello, how are you?" he asked, according to a United Press International report in The Salt Lake Tribune.

"I'm fine," Jack replied loudly.

Ford did a double take. "Oh . . . I hardly recognized you," he told his previously clean-shaven son. "How are you, big boy?"

Arthur Cahoon, who worked at the USU for 38 years, recalls some of the unusual circumstances surrounding the Fords in Utah. "The thing we heard," says Cahoon, "was that it was awkward for Jack to have a date because the FBI always went along."

Jack himself made headlines when he acknowledged in a newspaper interview that he had smoked marijuana. He also played host to Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol in the White House.

On a visit in June 1974, Ford presented the Boy Scout Medal of Honor to a young Pleasant View Eagle Scout, Richard M. George; stayed overnight with the Browns; and delivered the commencement speech at USU.

Weeks later, the fiercely loyal Ford learned that Nixon had tried to block the Watergate investigation, according to the New York Times. And on Aug. 6, he told the president, "I can no longer publicly defend you."

A few months later, in a pre-election speech at the University of Utah's Huntsman Center, Ford mentioned coming to Utah many times, skiing at Alta, Park City and Snowbasin, and the hope of one day skiing at Snowbird. He also praised Utah's Republican candidates and the state's values.

"So, there is really no need for me to preach about those old basic values to all of you, for your daily lives in Utah are shaped by those wonderful values that I respect and admire," he told the crowd.

"But I do want you to know that by living those values, you are a source of inspiration to all Americans, including myself. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for proving to all of us that old values are alive and well and working."

Former Sen. Jake Garn says he was impressed by Ford's humility and kindness - traits in short supply in Washington. One time, he recalls, the two missed a ski date because they became so engrossed in their discussion about military issues that they never left Ford's Vail condo.

Richard Brown received a call in 1975 from Steve Ford with an invitation to study grizzly bears in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, not far from Yellowstone National Park, where the president had been a seasonal ranger decades earlier.

The two spent the summer camped in a 2-foot-tall, 6-foot-long tent - a few feet from the Secret Service tent.

That fall, Steve delivered a golden retriever puppy, the son of ''the first dog,'' Liberty, to Brown's 15-year-old sister, Jennifer. A newspaper article told how the president personally advised the girl against naming the pup ''Mister President.''

Steve, who studied range management at USU, went on to become an actor. He had roles in the 2001 movie "Black Hawk Down," in "When Harry Met Sally" and in the TV soap opera "The Young and the Restless."

Richard Brown says he and Steve keep in touch. He hopes to hear back from his friend so he can personally offer condolences to the family.


Funeral plans

Friday, Dec. 29

* 12:20 p.m.: President Ford's casket arrives at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif. The former first lady and the family will have a private prayer service.

* 1:15 p.m.: Close friends and guests will arrive at St. Margaret's for private visitation. The Ford family will return to their residence.

* 4:20 p.m.: Public repose begins at St. Margaret's. The church will remain open until 6 or 7 a.m. Saturday.

Saturday, Dec. 30

* 9 a.m.: Departure ceremony from St. Margaret's.

* 9:40 a.m.: Ford's body leaves St. Margaret's for Washington, D.C.

* 5:20 p.m.: Ford's body arrives at Andrews Air Force Base, traveling to the U.S. Capitol. The motorcade will pause at the World War II Memorial.

* 6:20 p.m.: The casket will be carried up the east steps of the Capitol to the door of the House of Representatives.

* 7 p.m.: State funeral begins in the Capitol Rotunda.

* 8:20 p.m.: Ford's body lies in state.

Sunday, Dec. 31, and Monday, Jan. 1

* Ford's body continues in state.

Tuesday, Jan. 2

* 8:30 a.m.: The casket is moved from the Rotunda to the U.S. Senate door for a period of repose.

* 9:15 a.m.: Departure ceremony on the east steps of the U.S. Senate.

* 10 a.m.: Ford's casket arrives at Washington National Cathedral.

* 10:30 a.m.: Funeral services begin.

* 12:15 p.m.: Casket leaves the cathedral for a trip to Grand Rapids, Mich.

* 2:15 p.m.: Body will arrive in Michigan.

* 3:30 p.m.: Casket will arrive at the presidential museum in Grand Rapids. An arrival ceremony for Betty Ford and guests will follow. The body will lie in public repose through the night.

Wednesday, Jan. 3

* 2 p.m.: Funeral services at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids. The president will be buried at a hillside site north of the museum.

Thursday, Jan. 4

* 1 p.m.: The former first lady and the family return to California.

Source: The Associated Press



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