Gerald R. Ford (1913 - 2006)

BetaNews notes this afternoon with sadness and reminiscence the passing of the United States’ 38th President. Gerald R. Ford was never elected to the office – in fact, he had been appointed House Minority Leader in 1965, as well as to every office thereafter.

Having calmed, if not completely soothed, the country’s mood after Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, Ford became the personification of the quintessential pinch-hitter: reliable, safe, sturdier in his policies than at times on his own feet.

He may never have achieved greatness among the annals of presidents, but those with the thankless job of reassembling the country in a time of chaos run the risk of sacrificing their legacy in order to achieve their mission. Ford nearly did that, but his suburban Michigan decency and soft-spoken temperament helped secure him a place in Americans’ hearts, if not atop their pedestals.

He would be the last US president of the era before microcomputing took hold; the first Popular Electronics magazines touting individuals’ ability to build a real computer inside their own garages, were published during Ford’s tenure. Had he been re-elected, there’s a good chance Ford might not have immediately appreciated the magnitude of the onset of the computing era.

But had he never been appointed president in the first place –- had Nixon never resigned, or had a less capable man been appointed instead -– the US economy might never have stabilized enough for it to have become feasible for Americans to have ever wanted to purchase the raw materials to build Altair 8800s in their garages in 1975.

The seeds for economic turmoil had already been planted, and did indeed sprout under Carter’s later tenure. But Ford’s fiscally conservative policies -– some of which remain unpopular –- held the storm at bay for at least two years. As a result, the economic conditions were more favorable for the germination of new companies such as Apple and Atari, and the resurgence of HP.

Ford’s effect on the computer industry was indirect, and certainly unintentional, but nonetheless measurable. For that, as well as for the fact that he was simply a good and genuine person at a time the country needed one so desperately, we thank him and wish him peace.

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