Black and Blue documentary film screening and panel discussion featuring former Senator Buzz Thomas (grandson of Willis Ward) and Steve Ford. January, 2013.
I'm Susan Collins from Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy here at the University of Michigan. And I am just thrilled to have all of you with us for our program this afternoon. On behalf of the Ford School community, it is a real pleasure to welcome you here to the Ford School's contribution to Michigan's 2013 Symposium in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today's event is co-sponsored by the Ford School and by the school's center for public policy and diverse societies. But planning for the film and the screening and the discussion has really been led by one of our premiere research centers, The Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy Issues, CLOSEUP. And so I'd like to give a very special thanks to the team and the director of CLOSEUP, Barry Ray, who have done a really wonderful job planning the event as you will see, and putting things together. You will be hearing more from my colleague, Barry Ray, after we watch the film. He'll introduce our distinguished guest in more detail. But for now, please simply join me in welcoming first, Steve Ford, who is chairman of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation and son of President Ford. Welcome. It's great to have you with us.
< Applause >
We're also very honored to host Judge Willis Ford's grandson, Buzz Thomas, who has had--
< Applause >
He spent 14 years in the Michigan legislature as democratic floor leader in the senate and as democratic leader in the house. So very special welcome to both of you for joining us this afternoon. We have some other special guests with us today and I'm very pleased that the creator of our documentary could join us. We have the director and producer, Brian Cougar, and writer, Buddy Morehouse. So welcome to both of you.
< Applause >
Also with us are two of the sports historians that you will see featured in the film. We have journalist and author, John Newbacon <phonetic>, and Greg Dooley, who runs the popular Michigan football blog amvictors.com. It's really great to see both of you here too, also.
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I'm delighted that the director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, Elaine Didier, could be here to join us. Elaine and her staff have brought a really special treasure for us to have on this afternoon, which you see there on the table. That is one of the footballs that was used in the game around which the Black and Blue Documentary is centered, the 1934 matchup between the Wolverines and Georgia Tech. The football is on loan to the Ford Museum from Susan Ramino <phonetic>, the granddaughter of the man who served as the Michigan punter that day, John Newgazey <phonetic>. And so thank you very much for sharing that special treasure with us on this occasion this afternoon. I have a special VIP who I'm very pleased to introduce with us. Today we have the person who have perhaps the most to thank for the fact that on October 20th, we will now know as Willis Ward Day in the State of Michigan. It was an eight-year-old third grader who after seeing Black and Blue decided that she wanted to do something to honor Willis Ward. She approached the Board of Regions. She traveled to Lansing. And eventually, her lobbying won the day. And so that very special girl is with us today. Please welcome Jenna Robain <phonetic>. Jenny, do you want to just stand up?
< Applause >
So it's a special pleasure to have Jenna with us here today. I hope that as you came in, all of you took a button. You'll see many of us who are featuring our special buttons that just arrived today hot off the press, as a kickoff to our celebrations for 2013 for the Centennial of President Ford's birth. We have hosted a number of Ford legacy activities this past fall as we headed into this special centennial year including the university's tribute to Mrs. Betty Ford and a visit from President Ford's, Frank Zhar <phonetic>. Later this semester we will be welcoming General Bransco <phonetic> Proct <phonetic> back to campus, who will help us to dedicate a new statue of President Ford here in Lyle Hall. And we hope that many of you will come back and join us for that event. Our 2013 commencement speaker will be former treasury, Paul O'Neil, and his visit also will honor the really active living legacy of President Ford here at the school that bears his name. We have a number of other events and activities throughout 2013. And in 2014, the school will celebrate its own centennial, its hundredth anniversary. And I encourage you to visit our website or follow us on Twitter for more information about those back-to-back centennials. So please take a button if you have not already. Wear it with pride, I certainly do, for the university's connection with President Ford. And as we help to tell people about the impact and the many ways in which public policy continues to be informed and improved by all of the very many pieces of public policy that he touched. So with that, I'm going to invite you to sit back and enjoy the movie. Afterwards, you will reconvene for the panel discussion. So again, thank you very much for joining us.
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I'm Barry Ray. As Susan Collins mentioned earlier, I'm a faculty member here at the Ford School and also direct CLOSEUP, The Center for Local, State and Urban Policy. And to paraphrase Steve Ford, it's a nice day to have both Buzz and Steve with us. In a moment I want to introduce them. I want to just begin by offering a word of thanks and just a couple of observations before we invite them to the podium to share some reflections and then open time up for some questions. First of all, a word of thanks. We really have a remarkable group of individuals who have convened here today. This is in effect, to some extent, the family that has come together around this film and as the story that you first heard begins to reach a ever-larger audience. And so to reiterate what Dean Collins said earlier, we're deeply honored to have so many members of this particular community, the Black and Blue community, with us and look forward to hearing from a number of them in a moment. I'd also like to thank the members of the Ford School community who helped make this possible. Dean Collins mentioned a number of them. From the standpoint of CLOSEUP, I'd like to particularly note the role of Bonnie Roberts, whose done really an extraordinary job in bringing all of this activity together and thanks to her. Then I'd also like to share just two observations. One is that while the heavy-lifting and athletics on this campus is done father south on State Street, it should be noted that there's a really strong athletic interest within this school, the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy, in ways that might not be fully realized. This is a relatively small college among the colleges and schools that comprise this great university. But through intramural activities, units like the Gerald Ford Superstars, or the Gerald R. Superstars and other often go deep into intramural competition. And if you've ever been around our courtyard when the weather is a little nicer, you often see our students out there playing every game imaginable often wearing t-shirts, hats and even bringing athletic equipment that bears the name and likeness of President Ford. In a way, some are comparable to our button. So one word of warning, just for any of our athletically-minded students, you can't touch the ball. And as much, and I've had more comments on this today than you would ever imagine when hearing the ball was coming, you can't take the ball outside and play with it, as tempting as that would be. John Bacon talked several times during the film about the tough decision, the tough moral decision that Gerald Ford had to make in this case. And during the last year, I've had the privilege as serving as chair of a faculty and staff and student committee convened by Dean Collins to think about ways that we might appropriately celebrate not only the centennial of this school in 2014, but beginning in 2014, the centennial of the birth of Gerald Ford, this being the first in a series of events. I think one of the themes that we'll be talking about certainly today, but at subsequent events is that that theme that John talked about, hard decisions, hard moral decisions were evident throughout President Ford's life. The decision to give up legal practice and run for a congressional seat that politically he had realistically no chance of winning, largely driven by his decision to support the Marshall plan as it was moving forward in congress. The challenges that a president faces when he must make the decision on whether or not to pardon his predecessor under exceedingly controversial circumstances, even though taking that action may end his political career, decisions on whether to involve the United States formerly in the Helsinki Accords even though that would increase the likelihood of a primary challenge in his effort to seek a full-term in office. And the stories go on even in the post presidential years, as was noted in the film. The decision on how to constructively engage on the issue of Affirmative Action at the point that the university that he deeply loved was becoming involved in the Affirmative Action case in ways that go far beyond, in new complexities beyond the Willis Ward story. And so our hope is that this event is the first in a series of events over the course of this year, and probably spilling into next year, that we do indeed continue to celebrate the legacy of Gerald Ford. And with that, go back to the many, many touch decisions that whether he was a 19-year-old or a 20-year-old at this campus playing football, or moving into the presidency, or in the latter years of his life, he routinely and repeatedly took on and took on with great, great dignity. Finally, a word of introduction and really welcome. It is often said at events like this that there is really is no need for introduction and I kind of think that's true today. You have the bios before you. You know that Steve Ford and Buzz Thomas have led significant lives of public engagement across sectors whether it is currently running the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, they're being actively involved in the lives of all of the institutions that advance the memory of President Ford and help future generations think and reflect upon that life, or service in the legislature, or in other arenas of politics. Really, don't want to review the bios other than to say we are deeply honored and pleased to be able to welcome both of them to share the reflections and thoughts both in comment as they take these chairs and begin to respond to questions. And at this time, we just ask you to join me in formally welcoming again Steve Ford and then Buzz Thomas to our community and to our stage.
< Applause >
Thank you, Dean. Appreciate it.
< Applause >
Thank you for that introduction. And I know I'm going to speak for a just a minute up here and then Buzz is going to come up. And then we're going to sit down and answer some questions. And that's where always the interesting stuff happens when we get to hear what people are thinking. Dean Collins, thank you for doing a great job running this school and putting this program on. Brian, buddy, we were talking in the hall out there a year and a half ago, Buzz and I did those interviews and nobody ever had an idea that we were going to end up with such a great film. And it just makes people rethink this issue, and their lives, and it speaks to every one of us in a different way. So congratulations to you guys. It's a honor working with both of you so. And young lady, young lady, wow. You got a Willis Ward Day. That is so cool and I think you're going to be in politics someday. I just, I have a feeling that you're going to do big things so I congratulate you. I just think that's a neat, neat thing so hats off to you. Let me take a couple minutes, just give you my reflections on dad and this story and how it affected us. You know, first of all, dad was probably never supposed to be at the University of Michigan. When he got out of high school it was the Depression. They didn't have any money. There was no money to go to school and he was not going to college. And his high school principal called him in and said, Jerry, what are you going to do now? You're graduated from high school. And dad said, well, we don't have any money. It's the depression, can't afford to go to school. And his high school principal said, Jerry, I want you to go one year at the University of Michigan. And he had motives because he wanted dad to play football there. There were no scholarships at that time, but he was going to figure out a way to get dad to Michigan so he could play football for the University of Michigan. And dad said, well, we don't have any money. And he says, I'll tell you what. I'm going to loan you $100. We're going to do a fundraiser. You're going to be the first recipient of that $100, which will pay for your first year at Michigan. Now, I know it costs a little more than that now.
< Laughter >
But back in 1930, '31, you could go to Michigan. It was 100 bucks. So they did that. They raised money for dad. The high school principal invested in his life. And dad got here and then figured out a way to afford the next three years and went to school here. But he used to tell the story when they dedicated the school that he used to walk across the campus as a young freshman on a cold winter day, probably not as cold as today, but cold winter day. And he said there used to be this big empty lot, a pile of dirt on Stage Street. And he goes, I used to wonder what the heck they're going to do with that piece of ground. It was back in 1931. And he said at the dedication, he talked about here I stand, you know, 60, 70 years later and you've built a school with my name on it because one man loaned me $100. That's investing in people's lives. And I think if I were to sum up dad's life, the reason and the way he got to Michigan, the way he got to know your grandfather and how they interacted together, both of them great gentleman, honorable gentlemen, was he had great people in his life early on that invested in his life-- his parents, his high school football coach, his church pastor, his boy scout leader. All those people invested in dad's life and got him here to the University of Michigan. And Michigan invested in him and it turned out, it was a tremendous story about character and integrity and a story about friendship with your grandfather. You know, I didn't know the story about Willis Ward in the field of play at football. The way I knew about your grandfather was at dinner dad would always talk about he was good friends with a guy that beat Jesse Owens. And I knew who Jesse Owens was and so that was a big deal. But I'd never really heard the story about the game with Georgia Tech. So that was a big moment for me. Dad was very humble about that story. He was more impressed that his good friend, Willis Ward, had beat Jesse Owens. And that's how he talked about it. Again, if there was one story, and when we did the Larry King Show, that was kind of what I told Larry King, is that if there was one story and you said, you can only tell one story about your father's life, what would it be? It would be the Willis Ward story. I think that is the pearl of who dad was. I think that one story resonates and ripples out into every other area, whether it be the supreme court case here at the University of Michigan, the law school. I think it ripples out his compassion dealing with the pardon. Parts of that story, the Willis Ward story, I see in the fabric of so many other decisions. When he gave the pardon for Richard Nixon, what most people forget is on that same time, same day basically, he wanted to give amnesty to all the draft dodgers in Vietnam that had divided this country in the war. And his feeling for healing of a nation was not just about trying to find grace and forgiveness for Richard Nixon. It was about grace and forgiveness for many other people to bring a nation back together. But the pardon is what got the highlight. It wasn't the young men that had to flee and go to Canada to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War. That was a period when dad felt very strongly. The whole country was so divided that these acts of grace and mercy needed to happen to bring a nation back together again. They weren't very popular decisions at the time. But that was the fabric of who he was. Let me just close by saying, I was always amazed when I heard that story that, I think it was 1961 or '62 before there was a college in the ACC Atlantic Coast Conference. I think it was the University of Maryland in 1962 that had a black player on his team. That was 30 years after the Willis Ward incident. So these two young men, your grandfather and my dad, and many other people on that team as you guys know, dad was not the only one that was fighting to get Willis on the team to play that day. It was 30 years later at the University of Maryland before he had a black player. These guys were forward-thinking people. And Buzz, we didn't know who you were until the vote came up and we were shocked to find out, who's this guy, this democratic senator from Detroit. And it turns out, you know, to see our next generation get back together and kind of go full circle and keep this going. I think your grandfather and my father would both be very proud. So that's your introduction. Why don't you come up here.
< Applause >
Well, thank you very much, Steve. I couldn't have a better introduction. Thank you very much to the Ford School for having me here today. Thanks for all of the diligent efforts that went in to planning this. You know, when you have a program, you really don't know how long it takes them to do this. But they've been working on this for the past several months. And so your staff really is to be commended. Let me also say to Buddy and Brian. They're not just filmmakers that made a movie and, you know, they've moved on to the next project. They are living and breathing the history and the elegance of Willis Ward. A couple days before Christmas, I get a call from Brian. It's like, hey, Willis is turning 100 on December 28th. We're getting together. I'm up in Ann Arbor with Buddy, and John, and Greg and we're going to toast a drink. It's like, I need you to be there. It's like I'm sorry. I can't be there. But that's the type of guys that they are. They're the ones that are still going to Willis' gravesite and making sure that it's cleaned up, and that it's looking right, and that it's being taken care of. So they really have made themselves just integral parts of the legacy of Willis Ward and I want to thank them for that. Also I want to thank Jenna for her work. It's very difficult lobbying the legislature.
< Laughter >
There are people that are paid an awful lot to professionally lobby legislatures all the time that do not get the success that she had first time out, going and having the legislature in a very speedy amount of time pass Willis Ward Day in the State of Michigan. So there are very few people that will have that tribute forever. And so we're all very, very grateful to Jenna for the work that she did. And then I also want you to meet someone. The University of Michigan is really lucky that it has another Ward that is a student here. Melanie Ward is Willis Ward's great niece. We're not exactly sure, but she's a graduating senior here and she's applying to graduate school. I don't know if she's applying to Michigan, but I hear she's a really good student, Michigan.
< Laughter >
So it would be nice to keep a Ward in the tradition. And it's really nice to see Professor Bacon and Greg Dooley. I've not met you, but I read you. And I'm a pin Quaker. And so Ivey League athletics are not like Big Ten Athletics. So I still root for the University of Michigan. So it's really quiet a privilege to be around you guys. Like Steve said, I never heard the story from Willis Ward. He didn't talk about this episode in his life. He talked about his friendship with Jerry. And you saw the movie. I didn't know until actually Willis was dead also that Jerry was Gerald Ford. And he spoke elegantly of his love of the University of Michigan. So he was never bitter to the point that he didn't respect the education and the opportunity that he was given in life. You'll notice that I called him Willis. I call a lot of folks in my family by their first name. My grandmother was Margaret. I called her Monner <phonetic> because I didn't know how to pronounce Margaret. And so you'll have to apologize. Willis Ward was my grandmother's second husband. So I got the benefit of having three grandfathers. Willis was the only one that I ever knew. And I can say that he, in true grace and class, saved her life. When they were married in 1970, around that time, absolutely saved her life and became the absolute love of her life. And I think it really was just a marriage made in heaven. He instantly and immediately became the true patriarch of a very proud and fairly prominent family in Detroit. But if there's one person that shapes your life that you go to, that you have that relative that you just can't wait to see, for me, that was Willis Ward. And so I thought I would just share kind of my experiences and my memories of Willis Ward, recognizing that he died when I was 13. But I can say that with some certainty, that I was the second person, the second to the last person with him before his casket was closed at Plymouth Church and buried with him is my picture that I had to sneak into his lapel pocket. And my grandmother then escorted me out for her private time with him before they sealed his casket. But he was just a larger than life amazing individual. You can see, just in terms of physical stature, looking at President Ford and Willis in the movie, they're both strong, athletic men. But Willis was that guy that when he walked into the room, the room lit up around him. And that really is an amazing accomplishment. He was the life of the party, the biggest laugh you could imagine, the best story was always his to be told. You can see from the picture in the White House, he was an avid smoker. Smoked cigars and later in life didn't really smoke the cigars so he had to switch to pipes. And so I'm the recipient of a box of about 40 chewed up and gnawed on pipes that my grandmother made sure that I had and promise, you know, don't tell your mother because she really doesn't approve of smoking. So just one of those crazy, imaginative, excellent, excellent people. I still have a tradition to this day that I learned from Willis Ward, and it's kind of gross in a way. So excuse the lack of eloquence. It's at Thanksgiving. One of the great joys that Willis had at Thanksgiving was taking the really crispy butt part off of the Turkey and cutting it and eating that fatty, crispy skin. And, you know, a lot of folks probably enjoy it. That was one of our special moments together. And so he would sneak me in, call me in. Boy, come here.
< Laughter >
Don't tell your grandmother because he wasn't supposed to do it. And I'd say, hey, don't tell me mother. And there we would savor those moments of just eating that delicious, crispy skin. You know there were other things that he enjoyed eating like head cheese and other I that I didn't develop a taste for. But just those little moments are things that you never forget. The other thing that I would never forget about Willis Ward, frankly is I think that this episode and this time in his life really did instill a sense in him that you had to be excellent and as an African-American, you had to be more excellent. And so that you had to create a space for yourself where someone couldn't take anything away from you. And so it was always, always instilled in any part of any family discussion that your education and where and what you did, and how you prepared yourself needed to be a part of that. And the other big takeaway for me is his sense of loyalty. There was never any question that his friend, his lifelong friend was the President of the United States, was Gerald Ford. And people ask me, why did you, you're a liberal democrat from Detroit. Why would you stand up for a republican from Grand Rapids at the time that you did? And it's very simple. It's because, what you're supposed to do. Families come together often times in many odd ways. And sometimes it's just important to remember that families come together, and that you stick together and you stay together. You know, I don't know how I feel necessary about all of the politics of Gerald Ford. But if you were on a ballot today, he would get my vote. And that would just be because that's what I'm supposed to do. And I think that's incredibly important. And as we listen to the politics of today, remembering that loyalty and seeing that elegance of the relationship and the friendship, I think would serve us very well. And so thank you again for having me. And I look forward to our question and answer session. Thanks again.
< Applause >
< Silence >
We do want to allow time for questions from the audience. But given the fact that we have two people who are absolutely instrumental to this film and telling the story, we wanted to invite Buddy and Brian to respectively ask the first questions. I would also note that they have graciously provided an autographed poster from some of the principals of the film, which we accept and receive with honor. Buddy, the floor is yours if you'd like to ask the first question. I think a microphone is right there.
Yes, is this on? It's a tad related, but it's something that you told me in Washington that I'm intrigued with. You went to high school at the high school where Remember the Titans was going on at that time. Is that correct? Can you speak at all to maybe relate the film to what was going on at that time with racial relations at high school and blacks and whites?
Yeah. It's interesting. We grew up outside of Washington, D. C. This is before dad became president. And I'll go back one step further because I think it ties in with what dad wanted for us children. Part of the character of who dad was, I think, got decided as a young man. He had a choice which high school he could go to in Grand Rapids. And he chose South High because it was much more diversive as far as a population of the students. And he wanted to be challenged and he wanted to learn about the world, and he wanted to, you know, be with everybody. And so he asked his father, who was really his step-father, if he could attend South High, and that's where he went to high school. Now when I went to high school, dad wanted all us kids to go to a public high school. We did. I went to a school, T.C. Williams High School, which was the high school that was, for anybody that remembers, the high school where Remember the Titans, that story took place of trying to integrate an all-white school. I played football there. I wasn't on that team. I was captain of the junior varsity team. But all my friends were on that team that was highlighted in the movie. We went through that force busing, all those. Dad wanted us kids to be part of that. He thought that was part of our education as citizen. You know, you shouldn't isolate yourself. So yeah, I remember being put into that situation, force busing. It was congress wanted to use our school system before they had force busing in Boston. They could use us as an experiment. They could watch it from across the river in Washington, D.C. And so we were the force busing before actually Boston was years later so.
To me, one of the more interesting parts of the film is where John talks about, despite what happened to Willis in 1934 and the events of that game, that neither one of them ever lost their love for the University of Michigan. And indeed, through the years it even got deeper. And to me that was pretty amazing, especially given what Willis had gone through and the stand that your father was willing to take. What do you think it was about their character that allowed them, despite what happened in that game, to never lose their love and even grow their love for this university?
Well, I think Willis had a healthy respect for the education that he received and the reputation for the University of Michigan. This is the University of Michigan. And so it did, everyone, I think, remembers very fondly most of the experiences that they had in college. I think it also gave him an opportunity to create a very special friendship that was soul defining to who he was. So it was really an inevitable relationship that would exist with him and the university because of that shared experience. This was just such a defining moment that sometimes the great times and even the worst times because those really defining moments that you never forget. And I think that just, the university became Willis Ward.
You know, I think it's kind of like a family in that in any family, nobody does everything perfectly and you're constantly in growing motion. Hopefully you're growing towards greater maturity. I think Michigan, at that time, both men, your grandfather and my dad, understood that it was a growing time for the University of Michigan. And the University of Michigan wasn't the only place. This was happening all over the country. And so I think both of them had the type of character that had a grace and forgiveness of we're in it, we're going to learn together. We're going to be better on the other side of it. And no doubt, that did happen.
With that, we'd be happy to take questions. Once you're recognized, we do have a portable mic and we'll bring it to you. Would anyone like to ask a question of our guest? Back there.
Thank you. We all know that there is a physical plaque or something on the track that Michigan commemorating the athletic victories of Jesse Owens. I'm wondering if there's anything physical on Michigan's athletic area, or world, commemorating Willis Ward? Willis Ward Day is fabulous, but is there anything physical here to say who he was and who he beat because Jesse Owens is in Ohio State, I believe.
I don't know the answer to that, but if it isn't we're going to get Jenna to start working on it.
< Laughter >
Yeah. To my knowledge, there is not. So I know that there is some in this room that are going to be doing some work on changing that. And I suspect that we'll have some probably willing supporters in this room that might want to pitch in with that.
So Jenna, your work's cut out for you.
You know, it was interesting when we were talking about how our families came together. And again, to me, the other part of this is to now know Buzz and to see our families together, the next generation, and our parents and your granddad would be so happy with that. Again, I think it was in the nature of these two men that there might be differences politically or things like that. But they knew how to get along. And that's an example for all of us today. I mean, look what's happening in Washington, D.C. in politics and these lines in the sand. When dad was a congressman and then president, his best friend was Tip O'Neil, the democratic speaker of the house. And Tip O'Neil used to come by our house all the time. Dad and him would fight on the floor of congress about ideas. They would find compromise. And then Tip O'Neil would be at our house for dinner, or a drink, or something like that. And there was a respect for each other to find those compromises. I remember, there's a great story about dad and Tip O'Neil were on the golf course together playing golf, and this is when dad was president. And Tip O'Neil looked over at my father and he said, Jerry, isn't this a great country? We can go out and play golf together, be great friends. And he said 18-months from now I'll be traveling around the country trying to kick your ass in the election. And they just had a wonderful friendship, but a respect for each other. So yeah, it's an interesting time.
Yeah. Well, and Willis was a republican. Don't make no mistake. He was a republican. He probably would not like my party affiliation by any stretch. But, you know, just a testament to the family relationship. I recently had a flood in my house. And so I had all of my memorabilia, everything that I've stored from my 14-years in office here in Michigan, and I watched it just kind of floating away. So, you know, everything's gone. But Steve mentioned that he made a point of writing some notes to me along the way as we had these debates and discussions, just as President Ford and how I actually learned about this, President Ford wrote a note to my grandmother just reacquainting her and introducing himself and saying how much, you know, it meant to have that relationship with Willis and that he had heard that she was ill. And so he just wanted to wish her well. So the only thing that survived this floor are the notes that Steve sent to me. So my remaining legacy of my years in the legislature are Steve Ford's notes to me. The Fords continue to be very special to us.
Gentleman right here.
I'm researching the Senior Honor Society of Michigan. And so I'm writing the history on that. And I point out that the students that disrupted the rally, the Pro Willis Ward Rally were actually Michigan Man members and they were sent to disrupt the meeting by Yost because Yost thought that the students were going to organize a sit-down strike in the football field so that they couldn't play the game. And actually the captain of the track team got up and said, you know, you guys don't know this, but Willis Ward doesn't want to play. Well, he was a Michigan Man member, okay. So Michigan Man has a strong connection. Yosh was Michigan Man. Kip was Michigan Man. Igler, who was chairman of the board of athletics was Michigan Man. Ruthfund <phonetic> was Michigan Man. So there's a strong connection there. One question I have is, in the documentary it says that he went into Kipke's office and he said, I quit. What was Kipke's response?
We'll let you guys answer that.
We don't know what his response was. We know that Gerald Ford eventually then did, in research and I know that John actually, he might want to address this because he actually interviewed President Ford about this topic. But we know that then he went to Willis Ward and Willis Ward told him that he wanted him to play in the game and not sit out. So John, I don't know if you want to--
My source in this would be John B. He has great books written four years ago, not to great public attention but they're very well done. In that, he suggests that of course, Kipke tries to talk him out of it with limited success. This is where I think when you're talking about a conversation between two men that is probably going to last five minutes and it's probably going to be heated, followed by another one with Willis Ward in a dorm room somewhere, documents only get you so far. And to my strong hunch there is that Ford was upset. He definitely want, expressed the willingness to drop out. Kipke was equally upset, did not want to lost his MVP center, of course, and urged him to stay. And then the final decision was not made according to the records until he talks to Willis Ward. And part of that comes from President Ford himself through my conversation. So I don't know if you can make it all black and white as far as absolutely quit, absolutely talked him out of it, absolute this. But those are all the thrusts at play at that time. And there's no question, one certainty is that Willis Ward did not talk him out of it. I do believe, and this is where I think the courage really is manifest. If you're Jerry Ford and you're 22-years-old and you are there in party to football and that's paying your bills, you are willing to risk that at that moment, and we all know how the story turned out. It all turns out very happily for all involved ultimately-- a judge, a president, etceteras. They knew none of that at that time. And actually risk the idea of not only losing your place on the team for which you are going to be the MVP, but perhaps the money to go to school. And then of course with it, your political career down the road. All that, he was willing to put on the table at that moment. And that to me, if that's not courage then nothing is. So we don't know the exact dialogue of those conversations. We do know that he is willing to risk it all and he did.
I would say this, in that knowing dad and his ability to generate some anger very quickly--
< Laughter >
It all makes sense that that version is probably the version that happened. Once dad would calm down, he would have gone to Willis, talked to Willis, things like that. But his mother would tell you that as a young man growing up, that was what she struggled with the most with my dad, was his quick temper and making decisions that way. And so yeah, that all sounds very true.
Additional questions? Gentleman in the back.
Thanks. Just want to make one comment to on the last gentleman's comment that Jerry Ford was actually a proud member of Michigan Man <phonetic> and he was a part of the football and Michigan Man <phonetic> that year. So another interesting wrinkle, I think, to pursue. But one question I have for you, through our research of both these great men of Michigan history, we hear about how similar they were in the way they conducted themselves and what they did. What do you think were some of the big differences that they had, you know, and did that ever come out either in personality or kind of scope or things like that?
You know, I never got to meet, even though I was there at the White House when Willis Ward came and visited dad, I didn't never personally meet him. Again, my reference was, that's how dad lifted him up all the time is he knew the guy that beat Jesse Owens, you know. And we all like to think we know somebody famous or has done something kind of neat and it was interesting to see that that meant so much to dad that he was friends with this guy who had beat Jesse Owens. I mean, Jesse Owens was a legend. I think you can tell from the pictures. When I was watching, every time I've seen this film, both men have such big smiles on their face and they look to be very vocal. That's how I know my dad. He loves telling stories and being part of a good story. And that's what I sensed about your grandfather, was when they were standing there, they were reminiscent of these great stories. To hear you talk about how he was a center of attention because he always had these great stories, I think they shared that and that was not a difference.
Yeah. I don't know of any differences. I mean, there was never a cross word mentioned of the President. It was just my friend, my friend, my friend, you know, all the way down to wearing his Gerald Ford presidential cufflinks that Willis often wore. So I can't think of anything different. I mean, those pictures, yeah, they spoke a thousand words. Those were two imminently successful men that seemed really happy to be together spending some time enjoying each other's company and probably reminiscing.
I found it very interesting that your grandfather went to work for the Ford Motor Company and sort of an affirmative action of the time, and the dad to be back in with the University of Michigan later a supreme court case that involved affirmative action. So they seem to have parallel roads together in a lot of different areas.
Yeah. In fact, Brian let me in on a little history where later in life, Jesse Owens, was fairly down on his luck and Willis gave him a job at Ford.
I would also like to ask about the role of the president at the university at that time. As we know, at Penn State both the football coach and the president kind of got caught up in power politics. And it doesn't seem like, we've not heard about where our president was at the university in this controversy?
John, you might want to take that one.
Sure you don't want to have that one, buddy?
<Inaudible> fun ones, thank you. The president at the time was Alexander Ruthven and you see his name, of course, on campus. All-in-all, a very good president. He basically ran for cover on this one, abducted entirely, not unlike a certain Penn State President, which is my next book, thank you for two presidents you had to mention and question that I've got to deal with. Unfortunately, basically avoided the whole subject, which is one reason why Fielding Yost had so much power at that time. There's no question that Fielding Yost was running this decision pretty much unilaterally at that time, certainly over the objections of his football coach and with the silence of the president. So the answer is, not much.
One final question.
I know that President Ford used to come visit the football team. When I was a child and he was president, I lived on Dewey Street and the motorcade came in front of my front porch, unannounced because he had to be all secret about everything and I ran down there and I got to watch President Ford come out and Bo greet him and then meet with the team. I'm just wondering, did Willis Ward maintain any relationship with Michigan football or Michigan track? Did he come talk to athletes ever at Michigan?
Not to my knowledge. He watched games on Saturdays.
That's interesting. I mean, was there a reason for that? Was there a wound there that made him not want to come back and intermingle the way the president did, do you think?
Yeah, I don't know.
There was one thing. There's so much that we weren't able to include in the film. But Willis Ward continued to, despite what had happened to him, he continued to have a great relationship with the University of Michigan. And one of the things that happened was in 1979, it was the hundredth anniversary of Michigan football. And they put together this huge program that took place at Chrysler Area. And it was actually Millie Shumbechler <phonetic> who was in charge of the program. And one of the things they did is they got one, they went as far back as they could back to the 1930s. They wanted to get one player from each decade of Michigan football to come and speak at that event to represent Michigan football. The player they got from the 1930s who came and spoke was Willis Ward. And one of the great regrets that Brian and I both have through this is we came to fall so much in love with the character, and class, and dignity of Willis Ward is that we never had a chance to meet him. And I'm kicking myself because I was a sophomore at Michigan that year and I didn't go to Chrysler Arena. I would have been able to actually see Willis Ward speak that day. But he continued to have a great relationship with Michigan. He was inducted into the Michigan Hall of Honor in '79 or '80. It was some time right before his death. And then we've also heard lots of stories from people who remember going to tailgates at Michigan football games and Willis was part of the tailgating. And it's kind of like Buzz was talking about, apparently he was the life of the party at those events as well.
You know, dad had a great relationship with Bo. And he used to come back and Bo would invite him to lunch with the players. And he would talk to the players afterwards. And he always wanted Bo to bring over the center, because dad was the center. And he wanted to see how big he was because when dad played he was 195 pounds, I think 6'1. And every trip dad would come back to Palm Springs, he'd be telling mom and the kids, god, I met this center at Michigan this year. He's, you know, 6'3, 340 pounds. He goes, I don't know what Bo's doing to grow them like that and he just was fascinated with how big these football players have gotten. And every time they would play Ohio State we'd sit with dad and he'd watch that game. And we were so afraid he was going to call Bo and try to tell him a play or something, you know. We'd say, dad, just calm down. Calm down. In the final tribute to Michigan, and particularly Michigan football was when we came back for his funeral in Grand Rapids. We had the funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and we were on Air Force One bringing in casket to Grand Rapids. And the pilot of Air Force One came back to my mother and said, Mrs. Ford, would you like us to make one last pass over the stadium, the big house? And I'm going to get tears thinking about it now, but mom had tears in her eyes and she said, Jerry would love that. And they brought Air Force One, and a lot of you know that, brought Air Force One down and the problem was they didn't call ahead.
< Laughter >
They didn't tell anybody and so many stories in this town of all of the sudden they saw this huge 747.
It scared the heck out of Dewey Street. I can tell you that.
I know. Yeah. So it was a great thing for dad and we know he was smiling when that last pass over the big house so. He loved Michigan football.
One last comment I would make is that throughout this project, one of the film clips that I found the most interesting is, and it doesn't appear in the film, but is watching the commercial that the Ford Campaign put on all national networks for 30 minutes the night before the 1976 election. At that time, that is what you did and you threw as much resources as you could in an allotted 30 minutes of time. It's a fascinating little piece and yet very people appear in it. There is a democratic legislature, not Tip O'Neil, but another talking about President Ford. Joe Garagiola, the baseball player hosts it. It ends with President Ford sitting in a jet talking about what he would like to do in a full-term in office if he had been elected and yet there's one other prominent individual that appears repeatedly through that clip and that is Willis Ward. It's so interesting to think on the eve of the 1976 Election who would be selected to speak. Looking forward, there is indeed much to think about as we continue to reflect and celebrate the life of Gerald Ford going forward this year. And would only note, with directors and film writers with us, that there is a sequel already in progress. Without going into too much detail, will focus an even greater depth on the life of Willis Ward to which we can all look forward. You are all cordially invited to join us in the Great Hall for reception where we invite all of our guests to spend some time. There will be a couple photos with those who are allowed to get close to the ball. But before we adjourn for the day, please join me in thanking or welcoming.
< Applause >