Former U.S. president Gerald Ford was remembered Wednesday as a calm and decent man who put his country back on track after the disillusion of the Nixon years.
Ford diedTuesday night at his longtime home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., his wife Betty said in a statement.The cause of death was not immediately disclosed, but the 93-year-old had been suffering from heart problems.
"For a nation that needed healing and for an office that needed a calm and steady hand, Gerald Ford came along when we needed him most," President George W. Bush said from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
"President Ford lived 93 years and his life was a blessing to America."
Bush's father, former president George Bush, said Ford showed "what decency and honour are all about in the White House. This is his legacy."
In 1976, Ford made Bush senior the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Bush was president from 1989-93.
Vice-President Dick Cheney, who was Ford's chief of staff, said his former boss became president after the "greatest constitutional crisis since the Civil War," and gave the country the "strength, wisdom and good judgment" needed at that moment.
Ford assumed the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974, after Richard Nixon was forced to step down in disgrace because of the Watergate investigation. He had been Nixon's vice-president, but was never associated with the wiretapping and corruption scandal that rocked the nation.
"Our long national nightmare is over," he said on taking office as the 38th president of the United States.
The Nebraska native, who grew up in Michigan, was never elected to either of his country's top two positions. Nixon appointed him vice-president in 1973 after Spiro Agnew was forced to resign, and Ford lost his bid for election as president in 1976 to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Some analysts attribute that loss to the fact that Ford had issued a presidential pardon for Nixon, outraginga large portion of American society.
In 2001,Ford won the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for pardoning Nixon despite the toll it would take on his own political future.
Ford had been ailing for years
At the time of his death, he was the longest-living former U.S. president in history, outliving another former Republican president, Ronald Reagan, by a month.
Ford had been ailing for several years and spent his time largely out of the public eye.
"His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country," Betty Ford's statement said.
Democrats who served with him in the House also had warm words for Ford.
"Jerry was [a] warm, gentle, friendly, pleasant, courteous individual. He never used bad language, he loved his family, his kids, and above all else he loved Betty," said John Dingell, a Democratic congressman from Michigan.
Ford and his wife Betty, who struggled with addictions and later foundeda renowned rehab clinic that bears her name, married in 1948 and had four children: Michael, John, Steven and Susan.
Funeral arrangements for the former presidenthave not yet been finalized.
However, a memorial service is likely at the California church that Gerald and Betty Ford attended for many years. It will likely be followed by a state funeral in Washington, D.C., before Ford is buried in Grand Rapids, Mich.