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A day for the presidents

Today is the day we honor the office of the Presidency of the United States of America, and all those who have served as this nation’s top executive.

Two standouts born this month, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, achieved this high office without a formal education.

At his inauguration, Washington had but one tooth. Contrary to popular belief, the dentures he wore were made of hippopotamus ivory, gold and other materials, not wood.



While Washington was in office, he signed the Bill of Rights into law.

Washington was 6-foot-3-inches tall, but Abraham Lincoln was taller – 6-foot-4-inches.




Lincoln was the first president to wear a beard. He is credited with issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery in the United States.

My favorite president was Gerald Ford, because he seemed to be a genuinely decent fellow.

Comedian Chevy Chase of “Saturday Night Live” portrayed Ford as clumsy and dim-witted, and the press seemed to use him as a repository for their anger over Watergate.

Although I was too young to vote, I actually cried when Gerald Ford lost his bid for the presidency to Jimmy Carter in 1976. It seemed to me that Ford, a former Eagle Scout and devoted family man, would have governed with integrity.

A few years later, while in college, former President Ford’s son Steve sat in on my American democracy class. He enrolled at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, to participate on the school’s rodeo team.

It didn’t seem he attended class often enough to get a passing grade, but I sat near him at every opportunity, thinking I might muster up the courage to tell him that I was sorry his father did not win the 1976 election.

In the end, we never spoke.

On the last day of class, Steve Ford was invited to the front of the classroom by the professor. He pulled a slip of paper out of his hip pocket and read a short statement about why his father had pardoned Richard Nixon for charges relating to the Watergate scandal.

It felt like history, during those few moments that the former president’s son was defending his father’s actions to the class, and as Steve Ford stumbled over such words as “heal the country” and “get on with the nation’s business,” not making eye contact with anyone in the room, I felt like crying all over again.

Steve Ford went on to become an actor. He played Meg Ryan’s boyfriend in “When Harry Met Sally,” and he joined the cast of “The Young and the Restless” in 1981.

I doubt I will ever again meet anyone who has lived in the White House; my circle of acquaintances are far outside the circle of Washington elite.

What I learned in my American democracy class that year at Cal Poly was that the president and his family make great sacrifices to serve others. Every word spoken and step taken is under constant and intense scrutiny, even after the term in office is over.

Today is the day we honor those who have served as our president, and rightly so.


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