Sunday, July 15, 2007

July 14, 1913:

Leslie Lynch King Jr.'s Birthday

Dead president aficionados know that Gerald R. Ford was not born with that name, and in fact that wasn't his legal name until he was a young man, in 1935. But he did grow up using it. Ford was his stepfather's name; King his biological father's, whom Ford had no contact with growing up -- the better for him, as it turned out. The future president was the product of an unfortunate marriage between Leslie Lynch King Sr. and Dorothy Gardner.

Former Ford administration official James Cannon wrote the following about the circumstances of President Ford's birth in an essay of the president's character: "Dorothy Gardner Ford was a strong and resourceful woman whose own character was tested at the age of twenty. She grew up in a warm, loving family in a small town in northern Illinois where her father prospered as a businessman and served as town mayor.

"In college Dorothy met the brother of her roommate, and fell in love with him. Leslie King was the blond, blue-eyed, charming son of a wealthy Omaha banker who also owned a stage-coach line and a wool business.

"On their honeymoon she discovered that she had made a tragic mistake. Her new husband struck her, not once but repeatedly. When they reached Omaha, where they were to live with his family, she found out that King was not only brutal, but a liar and a drunk. His outward charm concealed a vicious temper...

"She decided to leave King, but discovered she was pregnant. With the encouragement of King's mother and father, she decided to have the baby in Omaha, and did.

"On July 14, 1913, the thirty-eighth President of the United States was born in the mansion of his paternal grandfather, and named Leslie King Jr. Unaccountably, a few days later, King came into his wife's room with a butcher knife and threatened to kill mother, child and nurse. Police were called to restrain him...

"Divorce was rare in 1913, but an Omaha court found King guilty of extreme cruelty, granted custody of the child to the mother, and ordered King to pay alimony and child support. King refused to pay anything...

"By good fortune, in her son's first year, Dorothy Gardner King met a man whose character matched and complemented her own. He was a tall, dark-haired, and amiable bachelor named Gerald R. Ford. By trade, Ford was a paint salesman; in the community he was respected as honest and hardworking, kind and considerate, a man of integrity and character--everything Dorothy's first husband was not.

"The next year she married Jerry Ford and her two-year-old son grew up as Jerry Ford Jr., believing his stepfather was his true father. By Jerry Ford Sr., Dorothy had three more sons, and the Fords provided a strong combination of love and discipline. Ford house rule number one was: 'Tell the truth, work hard, and come to dinner on time.' "

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