The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, Library and Museum hosted the William E. Simon Lecture in Public Affairs by former US Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill and the 2015 COL Ralph W. Hauenstein Fellowship on July 14, 2015 at the JW Marriott Grand Rapids, MI. The events coincided with the 102nd anniversary of the birthdate of the 38th President of the United States, Gerald R. Ford.
The event began with a reflection of President Gerald R. Ford’s leadership during the final days of the US involvement in the Vietnam War by Stan Greene. President Ford’s decision to commence Operation Babylift and Operation Frequent Wind saved the lives of thousands of at-risk South Vietnamese and children. Today 10,000 of those Vietnamese citizens and their descendants call Southwest Michigan their home.
In conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, the Republic of South Vietnam Veteran Color Guard presented the Colors and Ashley Trieu sang the National Anthem.
Foundation Chairman Red Cavaney thanked the luncheon sponsors and welcomed the attendees while Mayor of Grand Rapids George Heartwell provided the invocation. Following lunch, a video was shown in support of the Navy League’s USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) Commissioning initiative dedicated to supporting the completion of improvements to the ship for the sailors including a library and tribute room for Gerald R. Ford.
Susan Ford Bales provided remarks on behalf of the Ford Family and introduced Paul O’Neill. She highlighted her father’s deep understanding of the federal budget and is attempts to keep federal spending in check. President Ford would annually present his Administration’s budget in-person, something no other President has done since. Susan described how O’Neill supported Ford’s budget development and his preparation for the presentation to the American people. President Ford always felt that Paul O’Neill’s word was good enough, and nothing else needed to be said.
Foundation Trustee Paul O’Neill recalled numerous stories and personal reflections on his time working together in Washington, D.C. with Gerald R. Ford. O’Neill discussed Ford’s temperament and respect while working with everyone and Ford’s decision in pardoning Richard Nixon while 80% of the American people were against it. O’Neill jokingly said that “It’s not that he was a saint; but by God he was pretty close!”.” In the turbulent times of the 1970’s following Watergate, O’Neill knew that Ford was the right person for the job and he continues to feel privileged to have worked with the 38th President.
O’Neill also presented Susan Ford Bales with a portrait of Gerald R. Ford that had a mysterious 40 year journey after he provided background on its incredible story. The painting was commissioned by Time Magazine and painted by Margaret Holland Sargent in 1974. 40 years later it was found in the home of a couple in Chestnut Hill, MA, then gifted to Paul O’Neill, who in turn gifted it to Susan Ford Bales. Research on the painting was supported by Yahoo News Chief National Correspondent Lisa Belkin. Read more about the portrait at https://geraldrfordfoundation.org/the-lost-gerald-ford-portrait/
Following the Simon Lecture, representatives from Grand Valley State University (GVSU) joined on stage including GVSU Provost Gayle Davis, Chairman of the Board of GVSU Trustees and Ford Foundation Trustee David Hooker and GVSU Hauenstein Center Director Gleaves Whitney. Together they presented the 2015 COL Ralph W. Hauenstein Fellowship to Paul O’Neill for his devotion to serving our nation which began in 1961 with the John F. Kennedy Administration.