RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif.—Former President Gerald R. Ford, who declared "Our long national nightmare is over" as he replaced Richard Nixon but may have doomed his own chances of election by pardoning his disgraced predecessor, has died. He was 93.
The nation's 38th president, and the only one elected to neither the office of president nor vice president, died at his desert home at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday.
Ford was the longest living former president, surpassing Ronald Reagan, who died in June 2004, by more than a month.
Ford's office did not release the cause of death, which followed a year of medical problems. He was treated for pneumonia in January and had an angioplasty and pacemaker implant in August.
Funeral arrangements were to be announced Wednesday.
"President Ford was a great man who devoted the best years of his life in serving the United States," President Bush said in a brief statement to the nation Wednesday morning. "He was a true gentleman who reflected the best in America's character."
Former President Carter described him Wednesday as "one of the most admirable public servants and human beings I have ever known." Former President Clinton said, "all Americans should be grateful for his life of service." The first President Bush said "Ford was, simply put, one of the most decent and capable men I ever met."
Ford was an accidental president. A Michigan Republican elected to Congress 13 times before becoming the first appointed vice president in 1973 after Spiro Agnew left amid scandal, Ford was Nixon's hand-picked successor, a man of much political experience who had never run on a national ticket. He was as open and straightforward as Nixon was tightly controlled and conspiratorial.
Ford took office moments after Nixon resigned in disgrace over Watergate.
"My fellow Americans," Ford said, "our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule."
And, true to his reputation as unassuming Jerry, he added: "I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your president by your ballots. So I ask you to confirm me with your prayers."
He revived the debate over Watergate a month later by granting Nixon a pardon for all crimes he committed as president.
That single act, it was widely believed, contributed to Ford losing election to a term of his own in 1976. But it won praise in later years as a courageous act that allowed the nation to move on.
The Vietnam War ended in defeat for the U.S. during his presidency with the fall of Saigon in April 1975. In a speech as the end neared, Ford said: "Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned." Evoking Abraham Lincoln, he said it was time to "look forward to an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the nation's wounds."
Ford was in the White House only 895 days, but changed it more than it changed him.
Even after two women tried separately to kill him, his presidency remained open and plain.
Not imperial. Not reclusive. And, of greatest satisfaction to a nation numbed by Watergate, not dishonest.
Even to millions of Americans who had voted two years earlier for Nixon, the transition to Ford's leadership was one of the most welcomed in the history of the democratic process -- despite the fact that it occurred without an election.