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The Nation Remembers Gerald R. Ford

President George W. Bush hailed Gerald R. Ford for his administration's honor. Former President Jimmy Carter, to whom Ford lost the presidential election 20 years ago, called him "a man of highest integrity," and former President Bill Clinton cited his strength and humility.

"With his quiet integrity, common sense and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the presidency," President George W. Bush said in a statement to the nation from his Texas ranch Wednesday. "The American people will always admire Gerald Ford's devotion to duty, his personal character and the honorable conduct of his administration."

In the uncertain days after the Watergate scandal, those qualities were what the nation was looking for.

"Jerry Ford was, simply put, one of the most decent and capable men I ever met," former President George H.W. Bush said.

Read: More Reactions To Ford's Death

Ford, who died Tuesday at 93, was remembered for getting and keeping the country on course in shaky times.

"An outstanding statesman, he wisely chose the path of healing during a deeply divisive time in our nation's history," Carter said. "He frequently rose above politics by emphasizing the need for bipartisanship and seeking common ground on issues critical to our nation. I will always cherish the personal friendship we shared."

Though one of his most significant moves — pardoning President Richard M. Nixon for any crimes committed in office — was widely derided at the time, many have since come to see it as a gesture that healed the country as much as it hurt Ford's aspirations to be elected president in 1976.

Nixon's daughter Patricia Nixon Cox offered her "heartfelt sympathy" to the Ford family, saying: "History will honor Gerald Ford as a good man who became the respected leader of the Free World in unique times."

"My father had deep respect for Gerald Ford as an honorable and dedicated public servant," she said.

Read: Nixon Pardon's Effect

According to historian Douglas Brinkley, Ford and Nixon remained close friends during and after Ford's presidency. Nixon wrote Ford frequently with advice, including ways to defeat Reagan and Carter in 1976, Brinkley told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.

"He was the last of the Nixon believers," Brinkley said.

From Europe, leaders praised Ford for his role as a statesman.

In London, the Union flag over Buckingham Palace, the residence of Queen Elizabeth II, would fly at half-staff all day Thursday.

A spokesman at the palace said that the Queen, who met Ford during a state visit to the United States in 1976 where she attended U.S. bicentennial celebrations with him, was saddened by the news of his death.

"The Queen is sending a private message of condolence to President Bush and Mrs. Ford," the palace said.

German President Horst Koehler offered his "deeply felt condolences" and described Ford as "a great American" who played an important role in advancing trans-Atlantic ties and as "one of the founding fathers of the world economic summits of the leading industrial nations."

Czech President Vaclav Klaus called Ford "an outstanding politician" whose work "was instrumental for freedom in my country and for the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe."

Former President Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, said their prayers were with the Ford family.

"Gerald Ford brought Americans together during a difficult chapter in our history with strength, integrity, and humility," the Clintons said. "All Americans should be grateful for his life of service.

"To his great credit, he was the same hardworking, down-to-earth person the day he left the White House as he was when he first entered Congress almost 30 years earlier."

Former first lady Nancy Reagan, whose late husband mounted a challenge to Ford in the Republican presidential primaries in 1976, praised Ford for his service to the nation during and after his time in office.

"His accomplishments and devotion to our country are vast, and even long after he left the presidency he made it a point to speak out on issues important to us all," she said.

Read: Gerald Ford's Career
Read: Ford's Poll Numbers
Although Ford had moved to California after leaving the White House, his ties to his native Michigan remained strong, and in his boyhood home of Grand Rapids a steady stream of people lit candles, draped flags and placed flowers Wednesday at a makeshift shrine outside the Gerald R. Ford Museum. The museum opened condolence books for visitors to sign in the vestibule.

"The country was in scandal and war and he used the opportunity to heal the country and become one of the most important people in history," Joseph B. Niewiek, 31, a used car lot owner from Grand Rapids, said as he lit a candle at the museum.

"President Ford made Michigan proud as he led our nation through one of the most challenging times in our history. Our prayers go out to his family," said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat

The New York Stock Exchange honored Ford with two minutes of silence before the start of trading Wednesday morning.

"No man could have been better suited to the task of healing our nation and restoring faith in our government," California Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger.said.

Vice President Dick Cheney served as Ford's chief of staff.

"In that troubled era, America needed strength, wisdom, and good judgment, and those qualities came to us in the person of Gerald R. Ford," Cheney said in a statement. "When he left office, he had restored public trust in the presidency, and the nation once again looked to the future with confidence and faith."

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